Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Floating Staircase: Watery Graves And Tortured Souls

After having read the fantastic book The Wicked, I was recommended this tome by Amazon and have to say, I'm damn glad of it.
Floating Staircase is a superbly written ghost story with a palpable underlying tension running throughout the whole of the book.  Author Ronald Malfi weaves a chilling mystery chock full of surprising turns and intriguing yet tormented characters that make for a compelling and atmospheric story you won't want to put down.

Travis Glasgow is a successful writer of horror novels.  With a past tainted with a family tragedy, he is at his best when penning tales of dark terrors that mimic the ones he has lived through himself.  As a young teen,  he watched as his brother Kyle drown in an accident Travis considers himself responsible for.  He has weathered a series of guilty depressions and family fights and after escaping for several years overseas, has returned to the small Maryland town of Westlake where his brother Adam is a police officer.  Travis and Adam have been at odds over the years because Travis has always believed that Adam blamed him for their younger brother's untimely death.   Trying to put the past to rest, the brothers attempt a new start as Travis moves into a house not far from Adam.
The house itself is a fixer-upper, but just what Travis and supportive wife Jodie are looking for.  Varying thoughts of children hang over the couple, with Jodie anxious to start a family and Travis still lingering in the past and not quite ready to add to the Glasgow brood.

At a party to welcome the new couple to town, Travis is told an unnerving story about the home that he and his wife just moved into.  Seems the previous family, the Dentmans, experienced a profound tragedy when their young boy, Elijah, drowned in the self-enclosed lake behind the house. David Dentman (Elijah's uncle), and the boy's fragile mother Veronica struggle to come to grips with the dreadful misfortune that has cursed their lives and made it impossible to stay in Westlake.

Travis, already uneasy after finding out about the lake behind the house - (the one factoid that Adam neglected to mention previous to purchase and something that may have thwarted the decision to buy in the first place, with its similar circumstance akin to his own brother's death) -  is understandably taken aback by the news. Even more so by the horrific announcement that the boy's body has never been found. 

While cleaning out the house's basement, Travis discovers a closed-off room that he quickly deduces was young Elijah Dentman's bedroom.  Dismayed that a young boy would be banished to the cellar, Travis develops an unhealthy obsession with discovering what really happened the day Elijah drowned.
In the meantime, he begins to hear footsteps and closing doors at night, has disturbing dreams, and is drawn to the lake behind the house and the strange floating staircase that juts out of the middle of the water, reaching eerily for the sky. 

Malfi's characterizations are one of the strongest points to this thriller. The inner struggles of Travis which cause him to become a man dangerously obsessed and near the edge of a total breakdown certainly kept this reader glued to the book late into the night. Haunted by his past and unwilling to allow himself forgiveness, it is the mystery of Elijah's disappearance that compels him to solve the puzzle and move on with his own life, if that is even possible.

A highly recommended entry in the supernatural genre, Floating Staircase is at its heart a mystery, but it has enough paranormal elements to satisfy even the most fickle ghost story fan.  You're never quite sure if it is indeed the ghost of Elijah haunting the house by the lake, Travis's dead brother lingering, or simply Travis's vivid yet agonizing memories that are taking over his sanity.

I've heard some claims that author Ronald Malfi is being compared to Peter Straub.  I wouldn't say he's quite there yet, and Floating Staircase is no Ghost Story, but he is well on his way to being one of the great voices in the horror/supernatural genre.

Read this book.


Luis said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I've been looking to get back into horror fiction after having been away from the genre as a reader for many years. This looks like a good place to restart.

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks for reading, Luis! And yes, it is a great book to get you back on the horror track!

: said...

Such a great read. I highly recommend it too.


Christine Hadden said...

Yeah, it was almost as good as the last great book I read ;)