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The rule of thumb, usually, with sequels, are that they usually never equal what came before. That’s the case with Brian Keene’s Ghost Walk. The novel follows Keene’s Dark Hollow, which might very well be Keene’s best mass market paperback to date — keeping in mind that this reviewer has yet to read Terminal or The Conquering Worms.

There’s a reason, though, why Ghost Walk really doesn’t even come close. Dark Hollow was an emotionally charged read from beginning to end. Adam Senft starts the book with a history of emotional trauma — a miscarriage has disrupted his and his wife’s desire to have kids, and Senft’s problems just spiral out of control. For most married men, a wife’s infidelity is always a secret fear, and Keene took it a bit further. Senft’s wife comes under the control of a satyr named Hylinus, and the implications, biologically speaking, litterally sends Senft over the edge.

Senft, all the while, remains a sympathetic character. Throughout Dark Hollow neither he nor his creator, Keene, ever step back and ask for people’s empathy. If they had, the result would have been rather pathetic. Instead, Senft blunders forward, doing the best he can, and one wonders, as a reader turns the pages, whether that would be enough.

Ghost Walk essentially lacks that emotional charge, and as a result, it also lacks the chaotic energy that propels the reader forward. Basically, it’s the story of a group of people who must make it to LeHorn’s Hollow before an ever-expansive darkness overtakes and snuffs out the world. None of the characters, really, have to look into themselves the way Senft did, and so the drama, here, is more mechanical than psychological. To be honest — and I hate saying this — the novel comes off as a little rote and paint-by-the-numbers.

Of Keene’s MMPB’s I’ve read, I’d rank this towards the bottom, right above Ghoul, which I didn’t like for one pestersome issue of writing. The usual things I look forward to in Keene novel, like characters facing the world surrounding them, was actually a little more pronounced in Ghoul. It’s just that novel had a lot of intruding exposition about the 1980’s that interferred with the flow of the story. Ghost Walk reads smoother, even if the characters are not as dynamic as one would hope for.

Still, it has to be said: a Keene dud, at the moment, is still far better than a lot of what’s floating around the horror genre. Ghost Walk is not a terrible novel, and in terms of writing craft, I wouldn’t classify it as a failure. It’s just not as good as what Brian Keene can do. Dead Sea and Dark Hollow set higher bars, standards, and expectations. Sadly, Ghost Walk doesn’t even come close.

–Rich Ristow

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