Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes. Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .
Re-opened police records, psychiatric reports, transcripts of video footage and fragments of diary reveal a web of deceit and intrigue, violence and murder, raising a whole lot more questions than it answers.
Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?
BAH!!! I find it difficult to turn down a book that has a psychiatric element to it and that is exactly what drew me to The Dead House. Unfortunately, I found the read to be a mixed bag of good and not so good. Here’s the breakdown:
What I liked:
*I like the format of the book. The story is told not so much through the characters but through the evidence left behind by the characters. For example, there is video footage that is described, there is the diary of Carly/Kaitlyn Johnson, there are the medical records and notes of the shrink who work with Carly/Kaitlyn, and there is the notes and records from the various police investigations.
*Carly and Kaitlyn: The whole split personality thing is pretty cool and believe it or not, it is quite easy to keep the two straight as you are reading. Though both personalities inhabit a single body, each girl sees herself as an individual with her own wants and desires, likes and dislikes. Though the two never overlap, Carly has the day and Kaitlyn the night, they are in contact with one another through their diaries and purple post-it notes. I really enjoyed the dynamic between the two girls and how they relied on one another for their very survival. When one of the personalities is suppressed (that is, integrated) all Hell breaks loose.
What I didn’t like:
*The insinuation that magic and/or black magic is involved in all of the mayhem. With spilt personalities in an angsty teenage girl, there is more than enough to fill the pages with drama and despair. In truth, I found the inclusion of magic and black magic to be somewhat ridiculous and it detracted from the story.*The repetition. There is A LOT of repetition in this read and at some point, I found myself skipping sections I realized were repeats of earlier chapters and/or passages. It is abundantly clear Carly and Kaitlyn are dependent on one another and when the integration occurs, there is far too much desperate calling out for the return of the lost personality. While I certainly agree some of that calling out needs to be there, there doesn’t need to be nearly as much as there is.
*The ending. Are you kidding me? 440 pages got me to that ending?? There is some serious build-up to what is referred to as “the Johnson Incident” and when I got to the end, I expected far, far more than I got. Furthermore, I found there to be very little resolution in the end. While many readers/reviewers may find this to be totally appropriate to the overall read, I found it to be quite frustrating.
The Bottom Line: This is a read I wish I hadn’t invested so much time and energy in. This is a really long read and while the chapters are short and move along at a decent pace, there are too many big things that took away from my overall enjoyment of the read. From a purely technical stand point, I can’t make any complaints or criticisms it is in the other areas of the read that I found it to be somewhat of a failure.