Nicholas Close is a haunted man. Haunted by the very visual ghosts of the victims of violent deaths. Haunted by the sudden loss of his young wife and the possibility that he may have inadvertantly caused it. Haunted by the murder of his best friend as a child and the idea that he was meant to die instead.
Nicholas is the protagonist of Stephen M. Irwin's first novel, The Dead Path. Following the death of his wife, Nicholas quits his job and flees London to the small town in Australia where he grew up. But Nicholas is not just running from a life suddenly shattered by tragedy; he has also begun to see terrifying visions of people dying in bloody violent ways. He hopes to reunite with his estranged family and begin a new life, burying unhappy memories and nightmarish visions alike.
But very quickly events and disquieting feelings overtake Nicholas, forcing him to confront the unholy force he senses in a dark and forlorn grove of woods near his childhood home. As clues and circumstances arise, Nicholas realizes the malavoent darkness of the woods is more powerful, more evil and more ancient than he can believe.
I really enjoyed The Dead Path. For a first novel, Mr. Irwin has crafted an eerie tale that the accomplished masters of the genre would be proud of. His characters resonate beautifully and the reader can't help but be drawn into the novel. The complex relationship between Nicholas' mother and her children, in particular, was very artfully contstructed.
Mr. Irwin admirably uses the language to depict his scenes and action. I was often charmed by the similes he uses. Spare and poetic, I think Mr. Irwin's style reminds me very much of Peter Straub. His themes, character construction and tone, however, reminded me very much of Stephen King.
And therein lies my only qualm with The Dead Path. Genre readers will find no new ground broken in the novel. I feel that I must point out that I was (perhaps unfairly) reminded of King's It by The Dead Path. However similar the stories may be, The Dead Path is definitely not It relocated to Australia. It is rather a genuinely creepy story with a kindred leitmotif. I liked King's It very much. I was gripped by The Dead Path just as well.
In sum, if The Dead Path is the caliber of novels I can expect from Mr. Irwin, then I look forward to his next as soon as published.
The Dead Path was previously published in the UK and Australia as The Darkening. It is now available in the US from Doubleday.
Toolshed rating: 9 of 10 bloody talismans.