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Craig's Book Club
Book Recommendations

Spotlight on: The Deceased by Tom Piccirilli


To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.


The Deceased by Tom Piccirilli Tom Piccirilli, The Deceased

Several novels throughout author Tom Piccirilli's career have used the subject of homecoming as a springboard to get the plot going. The Deceased is an earlier take on that familiar horror trope (along with its direct predecessor, Hexes) folded within a "haunted house" setting. It is an interesting addition to the genre, but it has many things going for it that, oddly enough, often turn out to be the source of the book's problems.

Jacob Maelstrom has a history. The son of famous writer Isaac Maelstrom and a writer himself, Jacob was the only survivor of the murder of his family committed by his sister Rachel, who locked Jacob in the closet before she killed herself. None of the heads were ever found. Now, ten years later, on the anniversary, something is calling Jacob back to Stonethrow, his family's old house that has been rented out in the interim to struggling writers seeking inspiration (and, of course, sales), and it sounds a lot like the voices of The Deceased.

Jacob's friend and agent Robert Wakely (who was also Isaac's agent and friend) does not want Jacob to go back (though Wakely has profited handsomely from the Maelstrom legacy both in commissions and from his own three books about the family). His secretary (and lover, who he doesn't know is pregnant) Lisa's friend Katie is writing her thesis on a comparison of the Maelstroms' collected works (while grieving the loss of her baby and boyfriend), so she wants to interview Jacob.

So, just like any best friend would do, Lisa rifles Wakely's desk, gets directions to Stonethrow, and she and Katie take a creepy and dangerous drive out there. Meanwhile, at Stonethrow, Jacob is already experiencing the voices of his dead family haunting his dreams. He's barely able to handle it, and he doesn't know why, but he knows he needs to be there. Then there is a knock at the door ...

... and that is just about the point that the goings-on stop making any real sense, strictly speaking, and it was the primary reason that I had a difficult time finishing The Deceased. Apart from a rather conspicuous overuse of the word maelstrom (as if its use as a surname weren't symbolic enough), it is also my only real complaint. Piccirilli has never shied away from a sense of the surreal in his works -- he is a poet, after all -- but it is such an integral part of the plot here that it makes for a very tough read. While the book is never less than completely compelling, I never really got the feeling as if I were along for the ride, but simply a spectator forced to watch from a distance. Hallucinations and memories are blended with actual events with no clear demarcation. This makes for a highly rewarding, but often bewildering, read.

Fans who were introduced to Piccirilli through books like A Choir of Ill Children or The Night Class will certainly miss the more polished feel of those later works, but The Deceased contains a lot of the same feel. I often have trouble not being disappointed, once I begin at one point in an artist's chronology, by works written earlier in their development (it happens with music and films, too). In this case, though, it was the pure momentum of the prose that kept me turning pages even while I had trouble figuring out just what was going on -- sort of like being strapped into the cockpit of a plummeting airplane with an instrument panel labeled in a foreign language.

Still, even now, I'm not quite sure precisely what actually took place within the walls of Stonethrow, but I do know that The Deceased will please plenty of Piccirilli's newer fans while expanding their perceptions of what he can do with a novel. (Those looking for more "homecoming" novels need look no further than Piccirilli's own November Mourns and Headstone City, two more recent novels that carry on the tradition.)


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