Author Jack Kilborn presents a tale that features the victimized protagonists of five of his previous thriller novels. As survivors of terrifying trauma, they are the perfect candidates for a scientific study of fear. Dr. Emil Forenzi will pay a million dollars to those who spend the weekend in a haunted house. But they can only collect if they survive. (The surviving-a-haunted-house stipend has gone up since the 1950’s – Vincent Prince only offered his guests 10,000 dollars per person in “The Haunting of Hill House”.)
The book begins somewhat tediously with one introduction sequence after another until all the readers like me who are unfamiliar with Kilborn’s characters have sampled some of the backstories of these protagonists. However, the story then takes a turn for the better and the history of the haunted house is revealed. A dark history it is; a former plantation run by sadist Jebediah Butler who delights in torturing and murdering his slaves. There are underground tunnels that lead to a torture chamber. Bizarre medical experiments take place on the grounds; a doctor turns a slave into a four-armed monstrosity. Jebediah Butler meets his fate by being burning alive, providing an excellent opportunity to have a charred ghost appear later in the story.
The story has the key ingredients for any haunted house tale. It has ghostly and gruesome figures that appear out of nowhere and chase the guests. Protagonists separate and wander about into strange rooms and a maze of tunnels. They witness bizarre occult-like rituals. They watch others become possessed with spirits. Kilborn has successfully created a fun to read, eerie environment.
However, at a certain point far into the story, the tone changes from a creepy game of survival to an action-laden tale. The changes are almost abrupt and they are unwelcoming. They are not quite clever enough to be called twists. A good twist would be very welcoming. Alas, there was none. The overall eerie vibe of the story fades and the mystery evaporates. At this point into the story, I wished I could return to the journey they author originally took me on.
This being said, this is not a bad book. I just wish it were able to retain a creepy vibe throughout the entire story.