Isabella Steel Crafts an Engaging Paranormal Thriller Novel That Balances Beauty with Brutality

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

The charming New England community of Nollesmic Village is keeping a hideous secret.

On the outside, this little Maine town is everything a burned-out New Yorker needs to escape the clamor of the concrete jungle -– lovely autumn foliage, babbling brooks, placid lakes and a comfy mom-pop-eatery that serves up to-die-for flapjacks.

Speaking of “to-die-for,” this has become … um, well, let’s just call it “an issue” … for the people of Nollesmic.

That’s because lurking in the woods just a few miles outside of city limits is a place the locals not-so-fondly call Haunted Gap. It’s the abode of an unspeakable ancient evil that has a nasty hankerin’ for twin children and also nice mommies who happen to be pregnant with twins.

The local Native Americans have been grappling with the evil entity for centuries. Unfortunately, exorcising the Maine woods of the SKADEGEMUTC GHOST WITCH has proven futile time and again.

The best the indigenous tribes have been able to achieve is an uneasy truce. Even when the wicked thing is defeated with powerful shamanic magic, it just bides its time and keeps coming back generation after generation.

That’s about as much as I want to give away about this fine paranormal thriller novel by ISABELLA STEEL.

If it’s perhaps a bit formulaic — as in your standard good-vs-evil yarn – it overcomes conventionality with vibrant characters, a suburb sense of background along with just enough plot twists to keep us surprised and eagerly turning pages.

The great science fiction writer Ben Bova said, “All fiction is based on character.” Steel excels here, cobbling together in-depth literary figures that come alive on the page and make us want to root for their triumphs or lust for their bitter downfalls.

Isabella Steel

Steel is even better at creating a sense of place. Her creation of a bucolic New England town and woodlands made me feel immersed in a real environment. She does that cleverly with small details that zap you into the scene before you know it. For example, her characters don’t just take a seat in a restaurant – they slide into “an old Naugahyde booth with a Formica tabletop” and you hear the sound a patron’s tushy makes when he slides across a well-weathered leather seat.

You can almost smell the coffee and taste the fresh maple syrup!

But wait a minute! Does that mean you also have to hear the sickening “squelch” of rotting flesh being jabbed with a spear — or smell the corrupt bodily fluids of an undead demon?

Ahh, well, this is a horror novel after all. If you buy a ticket to enter, expect to get what you pay for.

I hasten to add that this is a book that balances the brutal with the beautiful. The opening scene, in particular, reads like a lovely mythopoetic folktale that may wax dark and disturbing — but it does so while entrancing us with the intoxication of a dangerously erotic dreamlike vision.

So, Skadegemutc Ghost Witch is a great “read on the beach” kind of book, but it is also a work that perhaps rises above what you might call a literary version of a “popcorn” movie.

One last thing — I can’t help but feel that Steel has a certain CECELIA HOLLAND vibe going for her in terms of style. After all, the Skadegemutc is a genuine historical reference — it was an apparition of the Wabanaki Confederacy of the Algonquian nations. Like Holland, Steel has deftly drawn upon fascinating historical material to produce a terrific book.

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Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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