Slattery Falls By Brennan LaFaro
A Book Review by Tony Jones
A trio of haunted house explorers find themselves the prey….
Haunted house stories are a dime-a-dozen, but Brennan LaFaro’s impressive debut does more than enough to haul itself above the howling and scratching pack. Coming in at a brief 152-pages, it’s both fast paced and punchy, backed up with a story that was very easy to speed-read in a couple of sittings. If you’re after a nice spell of pure haunted house escapism, then Slattery Falls does the trick rather nicely. Along the way, I found myself being pulled along by the entertaining and very engaging first-person narrative, who regrets ever asking himself whether ghosts were real.
What makes this novella slightly different from most other haunted house tales on the market is the fact that the three principal characters are constantly on the move, before unwittingly and perhaps naïvely finding themselves bound to something unpleasant and very, very old. The book is not about a single haunted house and is all the stronger because of it. Is it possible for a haunted house to cast a dark and powerful presence beyond its boundaries and pull in thrill-seeking suckers? You bet it is. This was one of the catchiest aspects of Slattery Falls, which reminded me slightly of Kill Creek by Scott Thomas, another example of where a house has a shadow which stretches far beyond its own four walls.
Interestingly, for such a short book, it does span a number of years and like many itches which need to be scratched, searching for haunted houses is a habit which Travis (narrator), his best friend Josh and Elsie, have never quite grown out of. The story begins with two college buddies, Travis and Josh, planning to investigate a supposedly haunted house, which was a weekend hobby of theirs. Josh is an old hand at this, but Travis picks the bug up quickly and they are later joined by Elsie, who is the younger cousin of Josh. Travis takes ghost hunting deadly seriously and extensively researches the New England locations he plans to visit and before long, the other two are sucked into his routines and they scout a series of different houses with varying degrees of success.
The three characters were another great strength of Slattery Falls, these guys are amateur ghost hunters and they are never portrayed as anything different. Travis tells the story and his love and affection of his best friend Josh lights up the action, with the dynamics changing slightly when Elsie muscles in on their friendship, looking for the cheap thrill that supernatural exploration might bring. Because they are slightly bumbling, with Travis not even sure he believes in otherworldly matters, it makes their exploits even more endearing to the reader. This was a fun trio to spend time with, Travis had his quirks, but the other two knew how to handle him perfectly.
I read this without knowing too much about it and there are some reviews on Amazon and Goodreads which are littered with spoilers, so I would suggest not digging too deeply if it catches your attention. Initially, I was unsure what direction the story was going to take and Brennan LaFaro keeps the main thrust nicely shrouded until the second half of the story. Initially, the duo (then trio) investigates a succession of haunted houses, but if that was all there was to it things would get repetitive rather quickly, and it’s the change of direction and added spice which up the ante in the second half of the story. I also liked the fact that not every house they visit is haunted, that would just be too obvious, and some of the scenes when they were creeping around the abandoned locations were top notch. I said early that the trio were amateurs, but that does not mean they were bumblers, and I enjoyed the ‘system’ Travis employed when they first entered a supposedly haunted location. You might say Travis sees himself rather as a supernatural ‘Urban Explorer’ rather than a Ghostbuster!
The second half sees the trio up against an ancient evil and there were some great scenes when the story reaches its final destination and their time in the ultimate haunted house goes through the gears. A convincing backstory is thrown into the mix and if anything, the story ended too early, with the conclusion coming a little too easily. Overall, Slattery Falls was a very solid first effort and was great entertainment for a couple of hours from an author to watch.