Reviewed by Jeanne
Aine Cahill has come to Walden Pond on a mission: to prove that Henry David Thoreau had a romantic attachment during his two years of “solitude.” Her only proof is an old journal from an aunt, chronicling their relationship, so she needs to find corroborative evidence: deeds, wills, newspaper articles, anything that will place her Aunt Bonnie in the area at the right time. She knows she needs to keep her work secret or else the townsfolk, ever protective of their famous son, won’t be as willing to help her.
She soon discovers that there are more secrets in the woods, including a young girl whom no one else seems to see. As Aine tries to discover what people are hiding, she also seeks to come to terms with her own bedeviled heritage.
Let me say at the start that this isn’t my usual type of reading, though I do like the occasional paranormal book. (Richard Matheson's Hell House did me in as far as horror is concerned.) I’m also a tad resistant to novels which seek to re-write history—I’ll read and enjoy them only if they’re very well done. However, this one intrigued me because of its straight-forward approach: we know right up front what Aine has and we don’t have to go through a convoluted tale full of Nazis or Knights Templar to get there. I was also curious because “R.B. Chesterton” is a pseudonym for Carolyn Haines, who writes the Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries about a feisty Southern belle. This sounded very different, and it was.
Now my problem is how to write a review without giving away too much. This is especially difficult because to disclose many of the things I enjoyed so much would pretty much spoil the book for someone else. But here goes:
The writing is fine, and Chesterton does a superb job of teasing out bits of Aine’s past as well. Even when she delivers a large amount of information at once, the writing is riveting. Just when you think you know most of it all, she delivers a curve which makes you see things in a different light. Aine has struggled to rise above her hardscrabble beginnings back in Harlan County, Kentucky, with a dark and violent family history. The characters come alive, both the ones in the distant past and the ones in the present. In particular, there’s Patrick, a handsome younger man who has a crush on Aine and isn’t easily discouraged; and Joe, the steady ranger who supports Aine but who has something unsettling in his own past.
One of my pet peeves is when the protagonist is about to do something supremely ill-advised, he or she often pauses to rationalize the action to the reader. Most of the time, I don’t buy these explanations in the least. I did, however, like the way Aine handles it by saying “Cahills were known for hardheadedness. Chances were, if Captain Ahab could trace his lineage, he would discover he had Cahill blood. No one but a Cahill, fictional or not, would chase a whale around the world just for the pleasure of trying to kill it.” That is one fine explanation. I believed it immediately.
Most of all, the book is atmospheric. You feel the dark of the woods, the frost in the air, the weight of the snow. The supernatural elements are handled very well—this is one creepy book even as it avoids the blood, gore, and vomit that decorate most horror novels. This is one of those books that gets into your head and lingers in the memory long after the book is over.
Of course, your mileage may vary.
(Note: Kristin also read the book and her comment was, “I don’t know if I liked it, but I enjoyed it.”)