Monday, May 5, 2008

Book Report: Winter Tides by James P. Blaylock

Winter Tides is a weird ghost story in which the ghost (a psychotic little girl at the time of death) is not the primary villain. The ghost serves more as a plot catalyst and a common ground for the living characters in the story. It brings them together and sets various events in motion.

The strength of this book is the world and the characters. They are detailed and completely believable. Enough detail is given that I truly inhabited the Southern California of the book. I found the characters to be flawed and occasionally contradictory: very realistic. Even the true villain of the piece, a perverse megalomaniac with artistic pretensions, is believable. We see the world from his perspective through much of the story, and his actions (arson, home invasion and murder) make perfect sense within that frame of reference. It is interesting that the scariest thing about this ghost story is a man who appears normal and even charming.

A weakness, I think, is the plot. It's a slow build-up, a gathering of sinister elements. I was left wondering what the villain's motivation really was in the end, since the reason for his final actions was never clear to me. I also kept waiting for something big and supernatural to happen. Instead, after the climax, the ghost vanishes and I was left without a clear idea why.

I had some difficulty reading this book. I'm not a horror fan, and sometimes the urge to put it down was stronger than the urge to pick it up. Still, it was worth the read just to see how Blaylock brought his people to life, and he got me involved enough with the characters that I had to see how it ended. My wife, a Blaylock fan, tells me that this was her least favorite of his works. She recommends I read All the Bells on Earth, or The Last Coin to catch Blaylock in top form.

I intend to take her advice.

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