Review

The Dead Path

by Stephen M. Irwin

Every year around this time, with the leaves turning and
pumpkins making their way into stores, I find myself craving ghost
stories. Stories that make you want to sleep with the lights on and
double-check the locks on the doors and windows when the slightest
sound is heard. Stephen M. Irwin deftly accomplishes both in his
debut novel.

Nicholas Close is living his dream life in London. He has a
beautiful wife, they’re renovating their new home together,
and he has a job he enjoys. When a sudden and tragic accident takes
his wife’s life, he can’t get past the devastation, the
collapse of their dreams, and the downward spiral of his life. One
other problem he’s having that he would do anything to
escape: he’s seeing ghosts. Not just simple hauntings, like
socks going missing and found in odd places, but the last violent
moments of people’s lives over and over like a movie he
can’t shut off. Everywhere he goes they appear, making him
wonder if he’s losing his mind.

Nicholas makes the decision to move back to his native Australia
with the hope of starting fresh. His hometown doesn’t have
much to offer, but it was home many years ago, and what he’s
looking for is a clean slate that his small town can provide. His
mother, never a very affectionate person, welcomes him home rather
half-heartedly, but he’s fine with the reception, not
expecting much more than the cup of tea she offers. His sister, a
mother and successful business woman, decides to visit him as well,
and Nicholas finds in her a kindred spirit of sorts. She
understands about the ghosts and reveals a small secret: their
long-dead father believed in witchcraft, and she herself is a
follower.

When a child disappears into the woods that have long haunted
Nicholas, he starts to see and hear things that he knows
can’t be possible. He begins researching the woods and finds
a long-dead woman still alive and possibly the reason for the
strange occurrences, disappearances and murders around town.

There’s that old saying that writers should write what
they know. Well, I sincerely hope Irwin is not writing what he
knows because his life would be terrifying if that were the case.
The book starts out with death and racks up the numbers quickly. At
first, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish it, but
then something happened, and without taking away any of the
adrenalin rush, Irwin brings on the creepy mystery and changes the
story from one about child murders to a depraved witch on a hunt
for blood. He doesn’t drop the intensity level one bit, and
you race through the pages wondering what’s going to happen
next.

It is dark, disturbing, and in places disgusting, but does what
it’s supposed to do --- scare the heck out of you. It makes
you want to turn on every light in your house and banish house
plants for fear they could be communing with a witch in the woods
to conspire your ending. What I liked about the evil in this book
is that it was subtle in appearance, and you have to wait for
Nicholas to figure things out, which in some places was a little
frustrating but all part of the story. By the end, you stop feeling
sorry for Nicholas and want to yell at him to fight.

While I found parts of the book slightly unpalatable --- child
murders are never an easy subject even when it is clearly fiction
--- THE DEAD PATH delivered on the terror factor. If you’re
looking for a book to celebrate Halloween, this might be the one to
try. It will certainly leave you with the need for extra lighting
and a creepy feeling about dark woods.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on December 29, 2010

The Dead Path
by Stephen M. Irwin

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385533438
  • ISBN-13: 9780385533430