There are some books that come across your path as a writer that you’ll keep returning to time-and-time again, these books are your inspiration, your teaching texts, books that you feel are written in such a way that to emulate how they are written to learn from them in some way will aid your own creativity and writing, making you better for spending more time in their presence. That can be said for Michael Clark’s The Patience of a Dead Man.
This will be a book that I return to many times in the future due to the mastery that Clark puts across in creating not only a deftly crafted haunting tale, but one that is beautifully paced (there are moments of stillness, then clarity, then gut bursting tension and creeping anxiety), it’s as if Clark were conducting a piece of unforgettable music such is the lyricism and beguiling prose on offer. The scares in this book are masterfully woven into the very fabric of this story and you can’t help but be moved by the horrors appearing on the page. The character work is phenomenal as we have many protagonists who never feel lost in the unraveling story, each one is fully rounded (warts and all) and each adds distinct layers to this unforgettable horror yarn that is playing out right before your very eyes.
But for me, the story is one that is so deep and wonderfully crafted, it’s like forbidden fruit, you don’t want to fall in love with it because it’s horrific, but Clark makes you fall deeply and head-over-heels into the stories terrifying and cold embrace. Not once do the reigns of this story leave Clark’s hands, there is not one slip or bump in its telling. If anything Clark is flogging this story to within an inch of its sorry life – driving it on until you, the reader, collapse exhausted (in a good way) under the trampling feet of this rampaging beast of a book!
He bet it all on a house in disrepair…
…but what he didn’t know was it was never really empty.
Tim Russell can’t simply leave… If he does he loses everything; not only his investment but his way of life. Reselling is not an option; the house spent three years on the market.
A recently divorced father, Tim knows it’s dangerous to stay, but not being able to support his daughters would be an entirely different nightmare.
Alone, he calls on the only person he can think of that might be able to help; real estate agent Holly Burns. Together they must confront the problem and decide Tim’s future:
Stay or go?
Clark creates a story with such depth that you can’t help but buy into the unravelling carnage that is happening before our very eyes. The Patience of a Dead Man of course dips its toes into the whole haunted house genre and comparisons will, and should be undoubtedly made to Jay Anson and ‘The Amityville Horror‘ and Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Woman in White‘. But The Patience of a Dead Man is a very different type of unsettling terror and Clark (it would appear effortlessly) gives us a whole new breed of horror; and in doing so changes the very playing field for these types of tales in the future. I think any haunted house story I read from now on will, and should be compared to this stunning offering – this for me was one of the best horror books (dealing with the supernatural and haunted house conventions) that I’ve read in a long long time.
The horrors in this book are stunningly rendered and this is coupled with the tension that seems to flow from Clark’s pen like water from a failing dam, as it sweeps in and washes the reader away as they struggle to hold onto something safe and secure, but inevitably however strong their resolve they have no choice but to succumb and be pulled kicking and screaming in the vicious current that Clark has whipped up.
There were actually two points in this book that made me jump, I know, I literally jumped reading the prose, something that has not happened to me before. A jump scare in a book? Crazy right? But that was due to the tightrope that the reader walks, the tension that is built gradually by Clark and the horrors that he reveals in such gripping and horrific detail. The horrors in this book are astonishing brutal and I for one was scared shitless.
To quote The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins…
‘In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white’
And that is what it was like for me reading The Patience of a Dead Man, every time the ghostly apparition of Mildred appeared it seemed to bring all the blood in my body to a halt, I started to feel the growing unease and then I’d fall under Clark’s spell again. He’d wind that tension up so much that I would fear it would snap, give away my position as an onlooker and then THEY , SHE would notice me watching and come for me too!
It’s the character work in The Patience of a Dead Man that make this book so enjoyable and that’s the ghostly and not so ghostly characters. Henry and Annette, although not in it much give the story some ballast and a driving force in the ongoing narrative. Then Tim (our main protagonist) and his ex-wife Sheila and their children lend a familial dysfunctional element to the plot. Then we have Johnny the loyal friend and co-worker of Tim and finally Holly the love interest – these characters for me help to ground the story, with each one being fully realised and I found myself wanting to know more about each one (which I hope will be the case with the subsequent books in the series). I did have some question marks over the speed in which Holly and Tim struck up their relationship, how so quickly they became entwined in each others lives – but I was able to park that and enjoy the story for what it was… a gripping, dark and scary ghost story.
The ghostly aspect of The Patience of a Dead Man was again brilliantly addressed and deftly brought to life by Clark. I enjoyed the creativity shown by Clark in having these ghost continually interacting with the house and the surrounding areas, as if they were stuck in some yearly loop, unable or unwilling to move on, it was a fabulous touch that also helps give some direction to the story and also most probably lays some foundations for the future outings. Also, Mildred Wells is one of the scariest ghosts I’ve ever read, her whole presence in the book brings with it unease and a fear to turn the page and continue this breathtaking story. This is in part due to Clark’s attention to detail of Mildred that is both haunting and horrific – and for weeks after reading this book I kept on discovering houseflies (bluebottles) in my own home, almost as if Clark had hexed me by reading his work. But I am sure that every time I see one from now on I will always think of The Patience of a Dead Man – now that’s some serious skill!
The Patience of a Dead Man is a book that haunted me and continues to haunt me to this day. It’s scary, tension filled, graphic, disturbing and one hell of a thrill ride, and it’s only book one! This book could end up being referred to as a classic… pick it up, dive in and start this unforgettable journey.
The Patience of a Dead Man is available here.
Michael Clark was raised in New Hampshire and lived in the house The Patience of a Dead Man is based on. The bats of the barn really circled the rafters all day and there actually was a man-made grove hidden in the forest. He now lives in Massachusetts with his wife Josi and his dog Bubba.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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