Hugh C. Rae – The Haunting At Waverley Falls (NEL 1980)
Sometimes books are really frustrating. This is one of them. After a long and difficult start this turned out to be…OK. Initially I disliked this a lot, wasn’t even sure if I’d finish it but decided to persevere. I’m glad I did. This isn’t a bad book by any means, but it’s got plenty wrong with it too.
The story involves the coal miners of small Pittsburgh town called Waverley Falls, where the mining company imports workers and support crews until the mine is stripped, then the whole operation moves on. When some miners die in an accident underground the workers link their deaths to some ‘roachbacks’ camping nearby. Roachbacks are itinerant travellers, kind of new-age hippie types, with a leader called Foxy Boy who claims he can heal the sick. Some of the miners from the town confront the roachbacks, eventually murdering them all. Observing all this, but not intervening, is Sheriff Badillo, head of security for the mining company (though not a true law enforcer beyond the company grounds). He is disturbed by what happened, knew it was wrong and feels guilty for not preventing it. Then the haunting begins in earnest, with a freak wind storm, a suicide, a miner driven insane at the coal face plus other deaths, all of them the men who took part in the roachback killings. The Sheriff knows he has to find out what is going on and a way of stopping it before he too dies or goes mad…
Like I’ve said, this is not a bad book. It does start very slowly, and the first pages seemed like hard work to me. I wasn’t gripped as I normally would hope to be at the start of a story. The tale builds reasonable well once it does actually get going, and the supernatural bits are entertaining. Except I found the characters pretty unappealing, all quite dull, depressed, cynical, ignorant and prejudiced. To be fair the Sheriff does become more likeable and assumes the hero role well enough. The setting is industrial America, the America of coal and steel and haulage. It feels a bit gloomy and shabby, but maybe that’s just realism.
In my opinion another problem with this book is that of padding – lots of lengthy explanations and descriptions that don’t move the story along. This could easily lose 100 pages and not suffer from it. Less usually is more.
I didn’t really enjoy this book, but I can’t completely figure out why. There doesn’t seem to be any enjoyment in the writing, perhaps thats it. You can tell with some writers they’ve had a damn good time telling the story, that they were excited by it themselves. To me that’s what is really lacking here, real enthusiasm from the writer. Or maybe I’m just talking rubbish. I certainly don’t want to put anyone off reading this, just the opposite. I would love to hear what someone else thinks of this…
Review by Nightreader
See also Vault’s Haunting At Waverley Falls thread.