Douglas Clegg is, one book at a time, proving himself one of the best horror writers working today, and he is in top form with his latest novel Afterlife. Julie Hutchinson is a suburban housewife, the mother of a young girl and wife of a successful Doctor. Her life seems perfect, a large house, a beautiful family, but everything is not as it seems. Her husband is brutally murdered. The police think him the victim of a serial killer who carves tattoos across the back and shoulders of his victims. Julie isn’t so certain. Her mentally unstable step-son, the product of her husband's first marriage, cuts similar designs into his own arm on the very day his father is killed. Their daughter claims her father, Hut, is visiting her in the dark hours of night, and perhaps more disturbing are the erotic dreams Julie begins having shortly after the murder.
Mr Clegg has an ability to create believable, realistic characters—they have the feel and quality of a neighbor, or even a sibling, a parent—and tighten the suspense and terror as they slowly descend into their own private nightmare. Julie slowly isolates herself from her family and friends as she investigates the strange events that surround her life. She makes arrangements to catch the ghost that visits her daughter on video, and when she finally catches a glimpse it is much more than she bargained for.
She enlists the help of a television psychic, and together they uncover pieces of her husbands past. Things Julie never knew, things she never wanted to know. The key to the mystery is a defunct psychic research center called Daylight. It is located in an old warehouse. Hut, her husband, died with the door key in his pocket. The mystery builds until Julie no longer knows what, or who to believe. She is either mad, or everything she has discovered is real. The novel weaves a spell of the occult, the supernatural and death. It is violent, real, and truly frightening.
This novel is something beyond the normal everyday horror fare. The characters are fresh, the plot is original and the story is damn good. Be warned, there is a fair amount of graphic sex, but it really is essential to the plot. It heightens the suspense and moves the story forward. This novel is not for the timid, but it is definitely for anyone who loves a good story, a good scare, and great writing. Afterlife is as good as the modern horror novel gets.
A NOTE. This review originally went live on SFReader September 3, 2005. I've hit a busy stretch at work over the past week or so, and I'm also in the final weeks of the semester so things may be a little quiet around here. Although I'm still going to try to get two to three posts up a week. I hope. I do have a few reviews planned: The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris, No Exit from Brooklyn by Robert J. Randisi, and Cage of Night by Ed Gorman.