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Those Across the River Hardcover – September 6, 2011
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“One of the best first novels I’ve ever read.” —Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
“An unsettling brew of growing menace spiked with flashes of genuine terror—do not miss this chilling debut. Christopher Buehlman is a writer to watch. I look forward to hearing from him again. And soon.” —F. Paul Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Sibs
“Lures you into a different era, seduces you with eloquent prose and sensual period details, then clamps down on your jugular…An outstanding debut.”—Hank Schwaeble, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Diabolical
“Beautifully written…with a cast of Southern characters so real you can almost see the sweat roll down the page. The ending is exceedingly clever.”—Boston Herald
About the Author
Christopher Buehlman is the winner of the 2007 Bridport Award for Poetry and the author of several plays. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
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The novel appears to be a romance at first. The narrator, ex-war veteran Orville Frank Nichols, is in love with Eudora Lehman. They are escaping a scandal caused by their falling in love by moving to Whitbrow, a small town in Georgia. They had met during a faculty luncheon, after which they began an affair. When the affair was exposed, Nichols lost his faculty position at the University of M. Eudora filed for divorce from her tenured husband. Once they receive word her divorce has been approved, they intend to marry. Since this is shortly after World War I, they have been telling people they are already married while they live together. Meanwhile, they need new jobs.
Fortuitously, Frank received a letter notifying him he has inherited his aunt’s property in Whitbow. She recommends posthumously that he sell the house immediately in her instructions to him, but of course, he does not. He wants to write a book about one of the previous owners of the house, an ancestor of his who was a notorious slave owner with a reputation of severely abusing his slaves. Eudora, or ‘Dora’, is offered what was the aunt’s job of schoolteacher.
As they happily settle in, meeting the people of the small southern town of Whitbow, they become aware of the town’s superstitious aversion for a nearby area of the Megiddo forest ‘across the river’, as well as an annual event of sending two pigs into that area ceremonially. However, this year the townsfolk are debating whether the ceremony should be held - they are enduring an economic depression and money is scarce. Those two pigs could be sold and eaten by the townsfolk. They decide to do away with the ceremony.
Wrong choice. Very, very, wrong....
Those Across the River takes place in the 30s, about 17 years since the end of WWI, and Frank, in fact, is a veteran that is still haunted by the war and the death of his best friend, a haunting which manifests itself in vivid, terrible dreams. These dreams soon take a backseat, however, to the terror that Frank and Dora find themselves embroiled in after a very fateful decision is made to do away with a long held tradition in Whitbrow. I’m being vague because I really don’t want to spoil the hair raising fun of realizing exactly what it is that lurks in those dark woods, and the ties that bind it to Savoyard Plantation.
Those Across the River is Christopher Buehlman’s first novel, but you’d never know it. It has an undeniable mid twentieth century literary sensibility that only serves to highlight the visceral horror that lurks alongside this seemingly bucolic southern town. Speaking of southern, Buehlman gets the rural, post-Depression setting exactly right, and provides an almost dreamlike intro to a decidedly gut-punching finale.
I loved this book. It’s everything I want in horror and while he explores some hard to read stuff, like the treatment of slaves at the hand of Frank’s grandfather, it’s not gratuitous, rather it’s an exploration of the power of cruelty and its ability to twist something into the foulest sort of evil. One particularly harrowing scene is actually in a convalescent home where Frank interviews a few people who were privy to his great-grandfather’s dark deeds. Buehlman knows how to build menace like a pro, and this book has some of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever read. If you’re a reader of horror and of the things that go bump, you’ll probably start to suspect what lurks across the river, but it doesn’t make the reveal any less horrifying, or ultimately, tragic. I finished this one in one sitting and moved right along to The Necromancer’s House, kicking myself the whole time about the fact that these books have been on my shelf for ages and I’m just now getting around to them. Shame on me. Don’t miss this one.
"Those Across the River" is a moody, horror-thriller, dripping with intensity and menace. I enjoy Buehlman's writing style which is more literary than most pop-fiction currently on the market, and highlights the fact that writing can be smart as well as fun.
I enjoyed this story of a couple who finds themselves in the deep South, exploring a family history that's better left unexplored. The main characters are well drawn and fully three-dimensional, but most of the others are so weak that I completely lost track of who was who. They simply became an amalgam of indistinguishable southern accents.
I think this book could easily have doubled in size to build upon the tremendously creepy foreboding built up from the earliest pages. The conclusion was mostly satisfying, but had greater epic potential. I don't want to delve too much further into the details of the story for fear of spoiling much of the punch.
Christopher Buehlman is a terrific writer. This is the second book of his I've read and he's definitely on my short-list list of new-ish go-to authors.