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on September 20, 2003
Tom Piccirilli is one horror author that makes me scratch my head in confusion. This author has won at least one Bram Stoker Award, the plum prize of those authors who write horror, for one of his novels. "The Deceased" is the third Piccirilli novel I have read, with the other two being "The Night Class" and the entertaining western "Grave Men." Of these three books, "The Deceased" ranks as the worst. Come to think of it, I wasn't that impressed by "The Night Class," either. The western novel was quite amusing, but if this author's other horror novels resemble "The Deceased" in any way, shape, or form, we are all in a lot of trouble. "The Deceased" is an unmitigated mess of a story, with a murky plot that becomes nearly impenetrable by the time the reader reaches the conclusion.
"The Deceased" is a tale about a horror writer named Jacob Maelstrom. Jacob's father Isaac was an enormously influential and famous horror author, well remembered and still beloved by legions of fans despite the fact that he died horribly some years ago. Several people wrote books about the strange incident that claimed the lives of not only Jacob's father but the rest of his family as well. Jacob survived, somehow, and still carries the memories of the day his sister took an axe and killed the family. Now, Jacob feels a call to return to the scene of the crime, to the Maelstrom mansion where it all began. In the course of Jacob's immersion into the memories of the house, he encounters the ghosts of his insane sister Rachel and his sadistic, wheelchair bound brother Joseph, along with images of his mother and father. Out in the forests and ponds surrounding the property, Jacob recalls the "muses," some type of supernatural creatures roaming around the grounds. If the dangers of the Maelstrom house threatened only Jacob, perhaps everything would turn out for the best, but two unexpected visitors in the form of a depressed graduate student and the girlfriend of Isaac Maelstrom's agent turn up at the house. This appearance by two outsiders means that other people will face the terror of Jacob's trip down memory lane.
I simply do not understand the appeal Piccirilli's books have for many horror fans. That's not to say that I think every aspect of this book fails: once again, Piccirilli does create several engrossing scenes, especially the opening experience with the fan and the flashback to a day Jacob, Rachel, and Joseph spent at a pond on the mansion's grounds. These scenes work, and work well, because Piccirilli definitely possesses a gift for the English language. Yes, this guy can write better than most authors you will come across in this genre. Regrettably, the stylistic acumen of the author fails to make up for the poorly constructed organizational structure and uninspiring characters found throughout "The Deceased." This story simply fails to satisfy on nearly every level, and its hallucinatory sequences, piled one on top of another, bored me. I don't mind reading books or watching films that like to mess with the readers head a bit, but anything that attempts to do so needs to contain something concrete for the reader to use as a touchstone. I don't think this story provides such a touchstone. Instead, the story zooms off the tracks every few pages.
I am not ready to give up on Piccirilli just yet. I know he can write stories with coherent structures (like "Grave Men"), and I am hoping some of his other horror novels contain just such an organized plot. I am beginning to think they don't, though, if many of the reviews I have recently read are true. In a way, Tom Piccirilli's horror novels remind me of Douglas Clegg, another writer who uses surrealism in his books. The only difference between the two is that Clegg makes the hallucinatory scenes secondary to his plot. With Clegg, you might scratch your head a few times, but at least you know where you are going. Piccirilli, as far as I can see, throws out everything EXCEPT confusing weirdness. "Hexes" or "A Lower Deep" will be up next for me, but not anytime soon. I need to take a break from this author's horror novels for a spell.
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on July 8, 2001
I must be missing something as to why this book is so well-received; I found it a bit dull. The big "secret" was a bit too obvious and too long is spent on passages that read like lucid dreams.
I am hardly a "lazy reader" as one reviewer states is the only person who would not like this book; I'm a graduate student specializing in Gothic literature.
Part of the problem is the characters are stereotypes: the moody writer with a past, the slutty secretary having an affair with her boss, the secretary's unstable friend who serves as the information gatherer (she's a graduate student wanting to interview the main character under the auspices of writing her thesis). It's all just a bit too pat.
In many horror novels, that would be fine--even preferable--but the plot depends entirely on how much the reader empathizes with the main character. Piccirilli just strings us along: is he crazy? was he the real killer? The whole book is spent just on this, without a whole lot of plot or character development.
Likewise, some of the book was pretty derivative. The incestuous behavior of the older brother and sister was like a nastier version of Flowers in the Attic.
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on May 5, 2001
This novel is definitely not fluff-writing, I'll agree with all the 5-star reviews on that point, but I still cannot agree with the glowing reviews that it is an amazing work of horror/fantasy. First, I find Piccirilli's writing to be unnecessarily ornamented. His extreme use of similes and metaphors in the first few chapters is almost nauseating. Second, I know he is trying to create an atmosphere of distorted reality and surrealism but I found his writing to be confusing and disconnected. He wraps too many past, present, dream, reality sequences together and in a somewhat illogical order. I'm an avid reader in this genre and others, however, I still am unsure as to what exactly happened in the Maelstrom house either at the massacre or a decade later when Jacob goes back to the house. In the end, I feel he leads the reader into a surreal landscape but offers very few clues as to what is exactly happening. The novel has merit in that it seeks to raise the horror/fantasy genre to a different level than many books that are written. On the other hand, I was very happy when Piccirilli's dream-trip finally came to an end.
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on January 15, 2001
...but this is my second attempt at reading his work and will probably be my last. There's nothing wrong with Piccirilli's imagination. He brings all sorts of interesting and neat ideas to the table when he writes, but his prose and narration are a REAL obstacle for me. I don't know if it's an attempt to be "literary" or what, but I find it to be very convoluted and difficult to follow. It just kills the story for me, I'm sorry. Kinda like watching a good movie with a whole lotta static. It's too difficult for me to see beyond it. I wish him all the best, though. A lot of people really seem to like him...
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on December 20, 2001
Don't expect a particularly intense horror novel. All intensity is driven out by muddled use of adverbs and convoluted plot threads. Horror of any sort, suggested or explicit, does not enter the story into well over 50 pages and the book isn't very long. Instead the first half of the book is about the lead character wandering between reality, fantasy, and memories. However, the author does not create a character with whom I can empathize with. Disappointing, dry of emotion, but a couple nicely written sentences.
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on June 23, 2001
Avoid this book! I don't think the book is 'deep' as other reviewers have stated; it's just a confusing mess of uninteresting characters. The main character is dull - and his dead family who keep showing up are barely more interesting. The agent character has no reason to exist and the two female characters (living) seem to be tacked on. And what's with the muses in the woods? I give it two stars instead of one because it was cheap and the print was LARGE. I was praying for the end of this one.
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on July 14, 2002
The potentially excellent plot of this story is hindered from ever being realized by the author's ornate writing style. The book did not raise any fears within, simply because of the hideous overtones of "artistic" writing. The characters are not well developed, and the story reads very slowly. There are times in the plot when you are not sure which character is where. Tom Piccirilli's books will not be gracing my bookshelves any time soon.
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on October 4, 2001
The Book Description suggests a simple journey through depravity and dementia: murder/suicide, isolation/imprisonment, etc. In actuality, the nature of the story is quite different; muddled with second-rate fantasy-world characters and settings EVERYWHERE, it's not the down and dirty sort of realism I expected. I bet his short stories are quite good, but I wouldn't trust him again with anything more than twenty pages long.
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on April 30, 2003
well, the writer wasn't that bad. i sensed talent. but all in all, no. some boring stuff here, coming in too lengthy intervals. for some reason i never really believed in the characters, psychologically they seemed wrong, or the way they acted or talked seemed wrong. the writing was too much "B" at times, and too simple.
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on December 27, 2000
This book seemed to be a conglomeration of bad poetry, or a written representation of performance art. Too much jerking around from obscure scene to scene, too many peripheral events going on that are left unexplained or seem to come from nowhere. In my opinion, pretentious, and not a cohesive storyline.
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