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Jeffrey E. Barlough
The House in the High Wood
Ace / Penguin Putnam
US Trade Paperback Original
ISBN 978-0-441-00841-0
Publication Date: 08-01-2001
318 pages ; $14.95
Date Reviewed: 02-11-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  Fantasy  General Fiction  Horror  Science Fiction

In his first novel, 'Dark Sleeper,' Jeffrey E. Barlough showed that he was not afraid to try something totally different. He gave us a novel with Victorian language and sensibilities, and set it in an imaginary wild west that never was, a wild west without guns, but with wooly mammoths, sabre-tooth tigers and subtle and terrifying supernatural entities. He returns to that world — and writing style — in his second novel, 'The House in the High Wood.' He slightly expands his territory, retains his Victorian writing manners, and in the end comes up with another unusual blend of enjoyable characters and a very chilling story of supernatural revenge.

Once again, readers will find themselves immediately immersed in Barlough's unique, Victorian-styled prose. The difference in the prose is more than mere affect. Barlough uses this style to underpin a very different form of storytelling itself. The narrator speaks directly and familiarly to the reader. The upshot is that the novel seems to come from the world in which it is set, a world based on significantly different expectations than ours.

Billed as 'Volume Two of the Western Lights Series The House in the High Wood: A Story of Old Talbotshire' functions as a standalone sequel to Dark Sleeper. It's set in the same territory, and the town of Salthead that is the setting for the first novel is mentioned tangentially here, but otherwise the novels do not share the same characters or settings.

After a brief (but required by the plot) opening frame, 'The House in the High Wood' moves on to create the small town of Shilston Upcot in the Western mountains of Ayleshire County. Barlough creates the town and nearly every citizen in it with great care and a Dickensian prose style that is readable and very enjoyable, lightly humorous but not cloying. We meet the lounging Squire, the rapacious lawyer, the genial landlord, his bustling daughter, the wishy-washy vicar and his strong-minded wife, and eventually, the mysterious new residents of the old abandoned mansion above the lake. All too soon, we meet the creature of their dreams, a huge-green eyed owl. Barlough is able to endow even dogs, horses and large vulture-like birds with characters that we care about.

Barlough carefully layers his work between cheerful characterizations and more menacing experiences in the nightmares of his players and in the woods near the mansion. Something is going slowly awry for the town of Shilston Upcot, something buried in the past behavior of the residents. Barlough takes some risks here, because his characters are so cheerful and likable, one wonders whether the supernatural aspects of the novel will ever attain any significance in their lives. It's a delicate balancing act, but he manages to bring things to a chilling and unexpected conclusion in the beautifully written final chapters. 'The House in the High Wood' demonstrates perfectly that Barlough has succeeded in finding a unique style and genre, one he can hopefully extend across a long series of novels. This is the kind of novel that the reader will close reluctantly, hoping that another is right around the corner.

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