The Easton family has just moved into their new fixer-upper, a beautiful old house that they bought at a steal, and Alice, the youngest of the family, is excited to explore the strange, new place. Her excitement turns to growing dread as she discovers a picture hidden under the old wallpaper, a child’s drawing of a family just like hers.
Soon after, members of the family begin to disappear, each victim marked on the child’s drawing with a dark black X. It’s up to her to unlock the grim mystery of the house before she becomes the next victim.
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Horror After Dark Review
ONE BY ONE is the second novel I have read from author D.W. Gillespie (both from Flame Tree Press). While the first had a good storyline, this second novel felt much “tighter” in execution. The pacing was more steady, and my interest for the storyline never waned.
A family–Frank & Debra, the parents, and their two children, Alice (10) and Dean (15)–are forced to relocate from their home in the “city” to one in the country. A house that was “a STEAL” according to Frank.
“. . . The woods . . . pressed in from all sides. There were secrets here . . . and to most people, that would be a bad thing.”
I really enjoyed this storyline, as a sense of impending dread steadily increased, yet never quite revealed all of its secrets at once. This gave me time to think about each revelation, and come to my own preliminary observations.
“. . . It was just an explanation, the kind of thing you turned to when there wasn’t a satisfying answer . . . people did that to stay sane because if you started looking for what-ifs, you’d go crazy . . . “
There were a couple of things I never did get used to though. The children referring to their parents by first names alone was jarring for someone brought up to address their parents as “Mom and Dad”. It was a bit confusing at first, trying to figure out who was who, and why there was no “familiar” connection. In the end, I had to chalk it up to simply the author’s style, and my own personal experiences, not meshing.
“. . . this was what being an adult was all about. Lying to yourself and those you love even when the truth was the only thing that seemed possible.”
The other thing that bothered me a great deal was Alice’s personality. It was much too mature for a ten year old girl with an “ordinary”, loving family, I felt. It often seemed to me that she spoke/thought more like an eighteen-year-old woman, instead of a child. This may be in part because I have my own children, and the differences really stood out. Other than these two issues, I found the story to be original, and well paced all throughout.
“. . . I think a lot about what a smile is, especially when you don’t mean it. It’s a mask. Something that hides the truth . . . “
Naturally, the house had a backstory, but this was written in such a way that the things currently happening were more important to me than the past . . .
“. . . If any excitement about the house remained, it had faded . . . been replaced by something much closer to pure fear . . . “
While I didn’t particularly connect to the parents, the relationship between the siblings felt authentic, and helped carry the story forward tremendously. Despite my feelings on the level of maturity Alice showed, she was a fantastically complex character that I really enjoyed following.
“. . . A few extra dollars on the electric bill was a small price to pay for her safety against the unnamable things that hid in the dark . . . “
The psychological changes far outweighed the physical in the first three-quarters or so of this novel–something I feel helped insure my undivided attention. When there remains the questions of “if” or “what” in the face of some event–making it so you can not be one hundred percent sure of anything–the story becomes much more of a challenge and an “addiction” to me.
I simply have to read more!
“. . . everything I know is pointless in the face of what I feel . . .”
Overall, this novel contained more than enough elements to keep me rapidly turning pages. I loved the plot, psychology, and mysterious episodes that began from the start. While I did have a few issues regarding the mental maturity of a ten-year-old girl, and relationship to her parents, in the end they were easy enough to overlook. A gripping tale from an author I will be eagerly watching for future books by!
About The Author
About D.W. Gillespie
D.W. Gillespie hails from parts unknown in the dark woods of Tennessee. Supported by his wife and two feral children, he spends most days hunkered over a vintage typewriter he found in a smoking crater deep within the forest primeval. Bearded and muttering, he writes tales to terrify by the light of a kerosene lamp.
He is represented by the Brower Literary Agency, and his work has been featured in many publications, both online and in print. His debut novel, Still Dark, is now available.