Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review: Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

The Audible Publisher's Summary:
Failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife, Eudora, have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family's old estate - the Savoyard Plantation - and the horrors that occurred there. At first, the quaint, rural ways of their new neighbors seem to be everything they wanted. But there is an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations. A presence that demands sacrifice. It comes from the shadowy woods across the river, where the ruins of Savoyard still stand. Where a longstanding debt of blood has never been forgotten. A debt that has been waiting patiently for Frank Nichols's homecoming...

An accidental find - I had queued Rosamund Lupton's Sister as my next listen, but at the last minute found Christopher Buehlman's debut novel "Those Across the River". I found the publisher's description intriguing - but also pretty lacking in depth. A few important notes (no spoilers) that ought to have been in the above summary:
  • The novel takes place in rural Georgia, following WWI where Frank served in France. Frank still has nightmares of his time in France and he's hoping to leave those nightmares in Chicago.
  • Frank's maternal grandfather was General Savoyard - a plantation owner, a slave owner, a general and a pretty shitty excuse for a human being. When slaves were freed following the civil war Frank held onto his slaves, tortured them, committed Nazi-like atrocities until he was killed by his slaves.
  • Whitbrow Georgia is a pretty backward, uneducated place - hillbillies, ignorance, racism, good 'ol boys are all prevelant in Whitbrow.

    Those Across the River is original and intriguing. The plot twists aren't entirely a surprise as the truth of the woods and the woodland creatures are revealed, but there are certainly a few moments where I think "huh, I didn't expect that". Mr Buehlman is not Stephen King, this is not an edge of your seat scream out loud novel. What it is, is an enjoyable novel start to finish that I would read (or listen to) again.

    Narrator Mark Bramhall  (The Magicians, The Magician King, Skeletons at the Feast, etc) is rapidly becoming one of my favorite audible narrators. There are some production errors in the audiobook version with some sentences just breaking off - like a word was just cropped out, or as though the narrator skips a breath between passages or there was a scratch on the CD (the latter not possible due to my mode of listening - iphone/audible app), but in large part the quality of the novel and narration makes up for the marginal production quality.

    Those Across the River was written by Christopher Buehlman and published by Penguin Audio. Those Across the River was released on September 6th, 2011 and has a runtime of 9 hours 5 minutes.
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