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May 27, 2024

Review In Haiku: Grave Intent

By Katrina Stonoff

Dead girl's coin--stolen!
Horror stalks mortician's girl
Can mother save her?

Creep City!!

This month I'm dabbling in genres I rarely read. And although I love thrillers, I never read horror. You have to realize: I don't read books any more than I watch movies. I live them. And nobody wants to live certain books or movies.

But I met Deborah LeBlanc at the Whidbey Island Writer's Conference, and I was very impressed with her. She's lovely, for one thing, but also gracious and open and smart. I read in her bio that she spent some time in the funeral director field, and her books had mortuary pun titles, so I pictured them as drama with a little humor, or maybe humor with a little drama (yanno, mortuary-based chicklit). Regardless, I wanted to see how she wrote, so I bought Grave Intent.

Wow. First, LeBlanc's "Prologue" was THE best opening scene I have ever read. OK, maybe that's hyperbole; there may be an opener as powerful out there, but I doubt there are many better ones. It's graphic, visual and gut-gripping emotional. It's a fascinating, exotic setting. Characters that can only be themselves and will never be confused with anyone else are drawn with two or three specific details. The reader has a powerful empathy for the POV character, and there's no way (no way!) I was putting that book down.

The first chapter was more tame, and I wondered how the characters in the exotic prologue were going to fit into the mundane world of a working mother who is a florist and her funeral director husband. But very soon, the suspense kicked in, and the mother was fighting for her child's life against supernatural forces. The mortuary hosts a funeral for a young gypsy whose neck was broken in a horseback accident. But the gold coin to pay the Ferryman is stolen, and the girl's grandfather has given the family two days to find and return it or someone (probably their 5-year-old daughter, for some reason) will die. The description of the funeral is a glimpse into a fascinating but closed society, and once it started, I was just riding out the storm.

I was transported. I did not feel connected to my body. I wasn't aware of being hungry or cold, and by the time I realized I had to go to the bathroom, it was nearly too late. My children trashed the house while I read (I did feed them lunch; give me some credit!). When my husband appeared, I ate a quick supper and went straight to bed to read before 7 p.m.

The last time I remember being so enthralled by a thriller was when I read Stephen King's The Stand. Grave Intent has a much smaller scope than The Stand (fewer characters and the events impact a much smaller segment of society), but it was no less ... gosh, I don't have the word. I want to say "enchanting," but in terms of black magic and evil forces rather than pretty Disney-esque spell casting.

By 11:30, my husband was snoring, and I was counting the hours of sleep I could still get if I put the book down and turned off the light. Two hours later, there was no way on earth I was putting that book down until it was finished, but fortunately I was nearly done. So I finished up, suffering the kind of disconnect I imagine you'd get returning from Jupiter, say, and turned off the light.


All the sudden my house was crowded with creatures formed from darkness and filled with rage. I turned the lamp back on and walked through the house checking all the doors and windows, making sure my children still breathed, and looking over my shoulders the whole time. And talking to myself, "Katrina, relax. It's just a book. This is your house. You're safe. Everything's familiar. So chill!"

Heck, I'm writing this a week later with my back to a sliding glass door, and my skin is starting to crawl just remembering. I think I'm going to have to either close the blinds or go to a safer room, like one where my husband is.

I tried to go back to bed. At that point, I could still get four hours of sleep, but I just couldn't get comfortable. If I slept on my right side, snuggled against my warm husband, my back was exposed to the door. Yikes! So I turned over, but now a window to the outside was at my back across him. Finally I lay on my back, where nothing could sneak up behind me, but I can't ever fall asleep like that.

So I turned the light back on and read a writing how-to book, but almost immediately, my eyes were drooping (heck, it was almost 3 a.m.!). But the second the light was off, BING! My eyes were wide open.

I did finally doze off, and wandered through some strange dreams before the alarm pulled me grudgingly from my sleep at 6:30.

The good thing is: I have learned my lesson. Either I don't read anymore of LeBlanc's books, or I must have a rule that I put them down at dusk.

The bad thing is: like that's going to happen! I immediately put Family Inheritance in my Amazon shopping cart and pre-ordered A House Divided. When I get them, I'll tell myself I'm going to stop reading at sunset, but heck, it'll just be getting good! I'll be in that magic place, and there's only one spaceship back to my safe, provincial life: "The End."

Ah well. LeBlanc has challenged her readers to read both books in print, take a test and write a brief essay about them during this calendar year. The grand prize winner gets $5000 (other prizes include a computer and gift certificates to bookstores). I figure if I win, maybe I can get some sleeping pills. Or buy some soporific reading material instead of this thrilling stuff I cannot put down.

Article © Katrina Stonoff. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-05-22
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