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The Secret Life of Souls


The Secret Life of Souls

Science writer Loren Eiseley is credited with the following blurb that opens this book: "One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human."

This quote sets the tone for THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS, a novel that is essentially about the special relationship between 11-year-old Delia and her ginger-colored Queensland Heeler named Caity, which calls to mind horror author Dean Koontz as well as the following comparison. Jack Ketchum has been a horror writer for decades, releasing work that is immensely popular on the horror circuit and garnering praise from the likes of Stephen King.

The Koontz comparison goes as follows. The formula of many classic Dean Koontz novels involved young people with canines, most of whom had special powers. After Koontz had a near-death experience, he became a far more spiritual writer, although the theme of special canines still makes the occasional book. When I read the premise of Ketchum's latest release, I feared he might be going soft in order to get bestseller consideration. I could not have been more wrong.

"[Jack Ketchum] and Lucky McKee have a winner with THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS, a work that deservedly opens them up to a whole new world of readers who enjoy fine literary suspense novels."

THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS is co-authored by Lucky McKee, who found success as a writer/director of horror films like the cult classic May as well as installments of the anthology series “Masters of Horror.” His pairing with Ketchum assured me that both of their horror roots would remain intact with the writing of this novel.

Young Delia Cross' greatest nemesis might be her stage mother of a mom, Patricia. Delia is an extremely talented actress, and her mother exploits that by filling her waking hours with auditions, head shots, etc. She envies the normal life that her brother, Robbie, has as he goes about the trials and tribulations of middle school while she is stuck at home with private tutors to school her between auditions or rehearsals.

This all changes thanks to a few unexplainable bits of what can only be described as telekinesis in the form of flashing lights within Delia's bedroom. It starts in the dollhouse that belongs to her mother and then throughout the room. Things get even stranger when Delia is nearly crushed by a slab of sheet metal. This is following the biggest audition of her young career, one that will make her famous.

However, that fame will soon become fleeting as the fickle finger of fate intervenes. Delia is nearly killed by a fire in her room and is dragged out by Caity. With serious burns over most of her body, Delia is lucky to be alive, let alone have the ability to pursue her acting career. Her mother sees this as an opportunity, and we quickly find the entire family on the talk show circuit promoting Delia and her courageous dog that saved her life.

Things come to a head when one particular talk show host comes at Delia's mom and lambasts her over how she is blatantly parading her daughter's tragedy for personal gain.  All the while, Delia and Caity spend most of their time together and enjoy their special relationship. Not many people can say they found their true soul mate, and most die without ever experiencing that kind of bond. Delia is shrewd enough to realize that she and Caity are soul mates as their destinies become one.

The horror genre typically gets a bad rap for not having enough substance to be recognized as literature. Occasionally, a work within the genre comes along to break through and appeal to a wider audience. Like the aforementioned Dean Koontz, there are a handful of “horror” writers who particularly excel at the depiction of young people --- Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Robert McCammon and the late Richard Laymon, to name a few. Jack Ketchum can now claim his spot alongside those other horror greats as he and Lucky McKee have a winner with THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS, a work that deservedly opens them up to a whole new world of readers who enjoy fine literary suspense novels.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 10, 2017

The Secret Life of Souls
by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee