Published by Valancourt Books on November 7, 2017
Genres: Crime, Dark Fiction, Fiction, Ghost, Horror, Mystery, Psychological Horror, Supernatural, Suspense, Victorian
Buy on Amazon
When photographer Jonathan Brewster’s four-year-old daughter Joanne tells him about her new invisible friends, he doesn’t think too much about it. But then he sees them for himself: weird and uncanny images of the dead appearing in his photographs. The apparitions seem to have some connection to Childgrave, a remote village in upstate New York with a deadly secret dating back three centuries. Jonathan and Joanne feel themselves oddly drawn to Childgrave, but will they survive the horrors that await them there?
The third novel by Ken Greenhall (1928-2014), whose works are receiving renewed attention as neglected classics of modern horror, Childgrave (1982) is a slow-burn chiller that ranks among Greenhall’s best.
“Writing in Shirley Jackson’s precise, sharp, chilly prose, Greenhall delivers a slippery book that can’t be pinned down, all about spectral photography, little dead girls, snowbound small towns, and the disquieting proposition that maybe God is not civilized.” - Grady Hendrix, author of Paperbacks from Hell
“A very well-orchestrated, eerie tale.” - Publishers Weekly
CHILDGRAVE, by Ken Greenhall, was originally published in 1982, and re-issued by Valancourt Books in 2017. I felt that this was a fantastic example of literary, atmospheric, and psychological horror. Jonathan Brewster is a widower with a four year old daughter, Joanne. As a photographer, he considers himself an artist, and therefore outside of the “normal” human temperament. Yet many of his decisions are grounded in reality . . . at least, in the beginning.
“. . . all photographs are distortions . . . a photographer’s style was merely a reflection of his or her taste in the area of unreality.”
As we progress, Jonathan becomes less pragmatic and more impulsive in his actions, especially when a mysterious harpist enters into his life. While he knows virtually nothing about her, he begins to exhibit reckless traits and decisions in his and Joanne’s lifestyle in order to get closer to her any way possible.
“I think I was insane at the time. I found comfort in reminding myself that derangement was the natural condition of the artist . . . “
This is a very slow-burn of a novel, and yet the literary prose, amusing comments, and interactions of his friends, makes it compelling to the point of not wanting to stop reading at any place. While it may first seem like some of the scenes have nothing to do with the main plot, they DO, in fact, bring the entire book together and give the reader a much richer reading experience. These passages subtly set the tone for what is to come, and bring about a much more complete idea of the psychological changes taking place.
“After a while, I was sure we had set a record for non talking in a New York social gathering . . . “
Greenhall does an amazing job in regards to his characterization. Even the most enigmatic individuals feel real to us, albeit with an ethereal quality that is somehow just as satisfying as that of the more detailed characters. It is enough for us to feel for the people by understanding only as much about them as the others in the novel do.
“. . . One of the earth’s truly exclusive groups is the one made up of people who have never been photographed.”
Once we enter into the realm of some supernatural occurrences, they happen so fluidly that they seem a natural continuation of the narrative, rather than a separate section altogether. I felt that the supernatural coincided so perfectly with Jonathan and Joanne’s psychological states that it made the novel seem entirely possible exactly as presented.
“. . . one of the things that bothered me about my spectral pictures: they seemed to involve not only an overlapping of images but an overlapping of time.”
By the time I reached the homestretch of this book, I was practically holding my breath in anticipation of what was to come. At no point did this story feel forced, or anything but the natural way it had to be.
Overall, a remarkable novel in regards to both prose and storyline. Even when there were moments when I felt I knew what to expect, I came to realize that my imagination had only guessed at half of what was to come.
“. . . we’re not just omnivores; we’re psycho-vores.”
A psychologically gripping tale from beginning to end.