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Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt alerts readers prior to the start of his latest novel, ECHO, “The chapter titles in this book refer to classic gothic novels and stories. Each one is a masterpiece, and I recommend them all without exception.” This tells me two things: Heuvelt knows and appreciates classic horror, and those who might not be familiar with the titles he throws at them will be able to start a great new TBR pile. With authors ranging from Poe to King, Machen to Barker, there is much to be respected and savored here.

ECHO is a horror novel set on and around the frigid Swiss Alps. It centers on an ancient and even darker and colder evil presence that is about to make itself well known to an unfortunate few. In the prologue, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Julia Avery is being tormented by evil spirits --- faceless ghouls that are nearing her bed in the country cabin she’s inhabiting by herself. She’s telling this all by phone to the only person in the world who will understand: her brother, Sam.

"ECHO is a real spine-tingler of a read, and the chapter references are constant reminders that there may not be a happy ending in sight here."

This taste of the supernatural in Sam’s life is nothing compared to what he is about to face. His boyfriend, Nick Grevers, is a mountain climber who has taken off on an expedition to scale one of the many treacherous Alps with his climbing buddy, Augustin. Only Nick returns alive, but he has been savagely beaten with a face so ravaged that it’s covered with bandages that are soaked through with blood, making him practically unrecognizable. The police are in Nick’s hospital room because his face was speared through with an object they can’t identify that caused most of the damage to his entire facial area and surrounding nerves. Cecile, one of the nurses, slips Sam a piece a paper that reads: Don’t believe them. It wasn’t an accident.

If that wasn’t enough to unsettle Sam, Cecile leaving the hospital mid-shift and referring to Nick as a monster just might do it. The police can only come to the conclusion that Nick and Augustin must have fought for some reason that Nick can’t remember. Who else could have mutilated Nick in such a way? Sam gets really spooked and catches a flight back to his home and business in New York City, especially after he swears he heard Nick whisper to him, “There are holes in the ice. They look just like eyes.”

During the physical separation between Nick and Sam, we are treated to their own notes, which add much-needed insight into this spooky tale. I especially love the chapter that features the first part of Nick’s manuscript, which is named after H.P. Lovecraft’s classic story, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. I could not think of a more appropriate title to reference within ECHO. Nick indicates that he feels like he never left that mountain, that it gets inside you and is the very nature of obsession.

At one point in Sam’s notes, he recalls that he swore he saw birds flying out of Nick’s face. He also observed something else but did not wish to give voice to that horrific recollection. As the pages in this intensely unsettling novel keep turning towards the climax, we hit the point where Nick discusses the events on the mountain with Augustin and what happened to them --- or at least some version that he tries to patch together with his addled mind. They find a place in the Alps where the snowflakes no longer dissolve on their parkas, where time seems to have stopped, yet they feel like they aren’t alone anymore.

Nick describes this area/thing as the Maudit, the mountain’s soul. He can see directly into it, and it has claimed his own soul. His body may have come down from the mountain, but it’s the Maudit that now inhabits it. This will cause a lot of trouble for Nick and Sam with the highly superstitious villagers who live in the area surrounding the mountains. They have heard the rumors about Nick from those who treated him in the hospital and have made it clear that he is not welcome. It is now up to Sam to decide if he can separate himself from his former lover, who he now sees as a “god,” or if he has become lost in whatever ancient evil has claimed him.

ECHO is a real spine-tingler of a read, and the chapter references are constant reminders that there may not be a happy ending in sight here.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 11, 2022

by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

  • Publication Date: January 17, 2023
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Nightfire
  • ISBN-10: 1250759560
  • ISBN-13: 9781250759566