A Sudden Light
Jones Riddell’s once-passionate marriage is falling apart, much like the old family mansion at The North Estate out West in Seattle. But he thinks that if he can sell off the crumbling monstrosity and split the money with his sister, Serena, he can put things right with his estranged wife. So this summer, he and his teenage son, Trevor, set out to do just that. However, what they find at Riddell House is something far different than a splintering marriage that needs setting right. And because Jones has so many conflicting things going on, it falls to Trevor to convince his father and his aunt what that is.
Riddell House stands at about a century in age. Several generations have passed through its expansive halls. It has seen many joys and countless heartbreaks, numerous births and deaths. So to encounter a spirit who still inhabits the estate may be surprising, but not beyond the realm of believability. You see, more than one tragedy occurred here, and more than one promise was made that must be kept in order to restore balance and peace to the land. Fourteen-year-old Trevor comes to understand that, slowly but surely, through his explorations. Maybe it’s because of the innocence of youth. Or maybe it’s the energy his psyche opens itself up to, since Trevor teeters on the edge of puberty. Whatever the reason, he finds himself unable to resist the pull of the spirit.
"Perfectly blending poignancy with emotion, depth and, best of all, feeling, A SUDDEN LIGHT is destined to become unforgettable."
Jones’s dad, Samuel, still lives at Riddell House. Aunt Serena has cared for their father over the many years since Jones left. Sadly, the old man seems to be firmly in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, at times, he is lucid enough to relate bits of family history to his grandson and even drop cryptic hints about what’s going on inside the mansion. Is he crazy, confused…or is something else at work there? Between Grandpa Samuel, the ghost of Benjamin Riddell, a number of diaries and journals, and a little digging into the newspaper archives at the local library, Trevor puts together a shocking tale of greed, love, disappointment and expectation. Here is a tale that can only end one way.
When a ghost story is done right, there are few stories that can rival one. Add in a romantic tragedy the likes of Romeo & Juliet and a mystery Agatha Christie would be proud of, and you have the makings of a smash hit. Without question, A SUDDEN LIGHT is a smash hit and then some. As he did in his bestseller, THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, Garth Stein has taken another risk with his narrator here, and it has paid off big time. No other character could tell the story quite like Trevor Riddell, just as Enzo the dog had to be the one to tell the story in Stein’s last novel, which I guarantee you will dash off to read --- or reread --- immediately after finishing this one. This author is simply that compelling.
Perfectly blending poignancy with emotion, depth and, best of all, feeling, A SUDDEN LIGHT is destined to become unforgettable. Bravo, Mr. Stein, bravo!
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on October 2, 2014