Book Review: Deadfall Hotel

PrintE-mail Written by Jon Towlson

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Book Review: Deadfall Hotel / Author: Steven Rasnic Tem / Format: Paperback / Publisher: Rebellion / Release Date: May 10th

Recently widowed and in need of a job, Richard Carter makes a new life for himself and his daughter Serena as the manager of the mysterious and remote Deadfall Hotel. He soon finds that the staff of the hotel, led by caretaker Jacob Ascher, are strange, but the guests are stranger still: a collection of werewolves, vampires, cults and creatures that cannot be named. Deadfall Hotel is a sanctuary for nightmares, and Richard must take steps to ensure his daughter’s safety in this terrible place.

The premise may bear a resemblance to The Shining, but Steve Rasnic Tem's fourth novel is a very different beast altogether. Its intention is not so much to terrify but to hypnotise, which Tem does through his beautiful and evocative prose. Like Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, this is a fine example of the new wave of literary horror that is sweeping into bookshops. Deadfall Hotel’s hero is trapped in a nightmare of loss and grief, given metaphorical form by the rambling gothic hotel and its mouldering denizens.

To be honest, not a lot happens: this is not the kind of novel that relies heavily on plot development, but one that seeks to conjure a state of mind and sustain it - and for the most part it succeeds admirably. The haunting, lyrical atmosphere of the book draws the reader in and holds you within the hotel’s walls. There are suspenseful sections, in particular, a superb chase sequence involving a legion of hellish cats, but action and horror are not what Deadfall Hotel is about.

Tem’s novel has been described as a cross between Mervyn Peake (Gormenghast) and Edward Gorey in creating a phantasmagoric setting for the exploration of horror in the collective unconscious. Like Peake and Gorey, Tem has an illustrator’s eye which finds some expression in the actual illustrations which punctuate the book. The cover, for example, is delightful and I would have liked to have seen this approach taken further, with more drawings throughout to visualise the hotel and its strange guests.

Some may find Deadfall Hotel’s protagonist, Richard, a bit passive, caught – as he is throughout – in the inertia of grief for his dead wife. But this is a minor criticism of a rather beautiful and darkly enchanting novel.

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