September 23, 2011

Book Review: Those Across The River

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman
Genre: Horror (with historical southern flavor)

I've never waited so anxiously for a debut novel to come out. I read about it earlier this year on Charlaine Harris' blog and fell in love with its title. It's got to be up there with The Sun Also Rises and The Sound and the Fury in the "best-sounding titles" awards: read it out loud. Are you in love with it yet? And then I saw the amazing cover and there was no going back for me.

It's about professor Frank Nichols, who leaves academia under a cloud of scandal after absconding with his co-worker's wife and moves down to an old family home in backwoods Georgia. He intends to write a book about his great-grandfather, a Civil War soldier and slave abuser whose ruined plantation stands somewhere in the woods. But Frank is haunted by memories of his time in the Great War. And the more he learns about what lies in the woods, the more he comes to realize that the town is as haunted as he is. Except the things in the woods have a score to settle, and it's Frank who is going to pay the price...

Let me start by saying that this book is geeeroSS in places. It's a horror novel, people: body parts do fly (and land with lots of squishy splats). But it is so well written and engrossing that I found myself not really minding the gross.

To say this book is atmospheric is putting it mildly. Buehlman invokes the sound and feel of the 20s with grace and believability and paints a funny and affecting portrait of the small southern town of Whitbrow. I love the playful affection in Frank's relationship with his young muse, Eudora, and how Buehlman uses the lighter elements to make the nasty bits all that much more affecting. This is a classic horror novel in the sense that its true creep-factor lies in what you can't see; Buehlman leaves just enough to the imagination to keep you up at night, in a good way.

The narrative voice is unique, lyrical, and haunting with a lot of surprisingly funny moments. It's one of the most original werewolf stories--or any story, really--I've read in a while in the way it is crafted. The fine craftsmanship is the thing I both loved and sometimes felt frustrated by.

Buehlman likes to do single-line paragraphs.
Which sometimes is haunting.
And sometimes lovely.
And sometimes breaks up the flow of the story.
Because it creates big pauses.
Like this.
And this.

This book is not warm and fuzzy. But if you like mystery, horror, history, and damn fine writing, you should most definitely give it a whirl.


  1. I'm a big wimp. Can I handle the scariness factor? I don't think I've ever not liked one of your book recommendations.

  2. I mean, I think you can... but maybe this would have to be a 'daytime' book. There are a couple of pretty gross scenes, but I handled it. So I definitely think you can.