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Horror Novel Reviews: Honesty in the Terror
on August 1, 2013
"What the hell did we wake up when we came here?" -The Third Floor.
The following quote is not intended as a relatively insignificant `spoiler' for this book review as it used used to highlight a point that this reviewer thinks should be considered when approaching C. Dennis Moore's modern day haunted house story, `The Third Floor'. In his afterword the author comments, "The novel you've just read, THE THIRD FLOOR, is very loosely based on a true story. While the main events of the story didn't happen, many of the smaller occurrences did.". Moore then goes on to flesh out the back story behind his modern-day tale of things that go bump, crash and even wallop in the night, affording the reader an interesting insight into what prompted him to write the novel. Unfortunately while the author's intent is seemingly genuine, ultimately the execution is decidedly lacking.
Jack Kitch, his wife Liz and Jack's son from a previous marriage Joey, make the move from their struggling existence in Houston to the promise of a seemingly idyllic new home in Angel Hill, Missouri. Jack works for the electronics company `Fett Technologies' and has been relocated to take up a better paid position. Finding a house for them to live in proves be shockingly easy with Jack purchasing a monstrously sized three story house near the centre of the municipality. A house with an attractively moderate price tag. And of course, a house with a distasteful and minatory history.
Moore's narrative begins feverishly quickly, describing the young family's arrival late at night with a brevity of prose and a lightly descriptive touch, hinting at the torments to come with Liz observing, "Even with a street lamp in front of their house, it was dark.. Not just the house, but everything around it, as if the house sucked up any light that dared come near it." The author establishes the characters troubling personal preoccupations: Liz is worried that she'll never be accepted by six year old Joey as his new mother and Jack is anxious to prove himself at his new place of work.
It's a story framework that will be more than familiar to anyone who has a read more than a few haunted house novels or watched a half dozen or so similarly themed movies. And it's a shame that Moore does so little that is fresh or inventive with the ghostly tale paradigm, if anything the author appears content awkwardly re-treading other horror themed narrative through-lines to the point where it veers on odious pantomime. After a promisingly ominous start, `The Third Floor' then sadly proceeds to map out a storyline arc that seems as if it were lifted from some dreadful creative-writing manual for horror-fiction writers singularly interested in depicting hollow spectacle and pedestrian character development as a way of engaging the undemanding reader.
The author rarely bothers very much describing any of the novel's protagonists with anything above a modicum of cursory detail, with the orbiting secondary players faring even less favourably, reduced merely to names: Carl the exterminator, Judy the old lady, Art the glass repairman, Charley Clark the co-worker, Arthur Miller the used-book shop owner (yes, Arthur Miller), and on and on. Character growth for the principles is virtually non-existent and motivation is hamstrung by what this reviewer can only construe is the author's intention to drag the plot out, adding nothing in the long run except for a higher page count. Arguably, there's a good third of this book that could be safely excised without lessening the impact of the tale at all and in fact it would certainly greatly reduce reader frustration with the leading players, Jack and Liz, both of whom come across as two of the most insipid and frankly stupid characters this reviewer has seen delineated in a horror novel in quite some time, with the unfortunate and obvious outcome for the reader: you simply don't care about their supernatural predicament at all.
In some areas `The Third Floor' possesses an unnerving ghoulish atmosphere; there's a particularly enjoyable episode that deals with a creepy apartment across town, an unsettling account of townsfolk vanishing without trace and a grand guignol account of the disturbing origins of the nearby recreational park, but its effects are ruined by the lumbering, predictable nature of the plot and repetitive use of dream imagery as a story telling device. Had the author spent more time investing in a more layered background for his principal characters and less on padding out his tale with soap-opera-inspired exposition this could have been a thoroughly engaging if unoriginal pot-boiler. Sadly, it's this reviewer's contention that `The Third Floor' is not for those who enjoy reading gripping and innovative genre fiction, it's perhaps appealing only to those readers satisfied with being moderately diverted for a few hours.
Written by James Keen from Horror Novel Reviews. Horror Novel Reviews does not receive payment for reviews. All books are promotional copies.