I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of The Edgewater Chronicles by Tom Deady from Crossroad Press. I read it during my bout of Covid-19 (after two years, six months, three vaccinations, and gallons of hand sanitizer, it finally got me…). Covid sucks, but it gave me a good excuse to catch up on media I’d been neglecting.
So, what are we working with here? I’ll start with the spoiler-free basics and then (as I inevitably do) start picking the stories apart.
The Edgewater Chronicles is composed of four novellas. Carrying on the proud tradition of Lovecraft, Tremblay, and many more, Deady’s work is classic New England Gothic. Our town is “Edgewater,” situated, as best I can tell, outside Boston, near the coast. Lynn (the City of Sin!) provides a landmark. The stories all stand alone, though the setting gives them a delightfully eerie throughline.
We enter Edgewater with fresh grief. While in town, we attend a class reunion and reminisce about those no longer with us…and why they’re not around. We explore an abandoned hotel with a patient malevolence. Even at home, the house we lovingly built turns out to hold more than we bargained for. And sometimes, those dearest to us don’t always tell the truth.
What worked for me: the themes of addiction, grief, loneliness, responsibility, and the feeling of missed chances. Dread built with breadcrumb trails. Anniversaries and the emotions they bring up. Complex characters who react messily and feel lots of emotions. Places that are themselves characters, and not very nice ones. Eerie atmosphere and lots of tactile details (I drank each of Tim’s cokes and heard the muffled sounds of 80s rock from the lobby. So too did I sip Dalia’s endless cups of tea and hear her fire crackle). Tantalizing threads left swinging.
What didn’t work for me: Dialog that sometimes got stiltedly formal. Repeated words a copyeditor should have varied up. Characters sometimes doing things that didn’t make sense for them and never getting a satisfactory explanation. The prevailing sense that maybe some of these novellas should have been a novel. Which, really, is more of a compliment than anything, because it meant they had good bones. Very good bones indeed. Unlike, say, certain other buildings in Edgewater…
Now for the spoilery, in-depth part!
I’ve ranked the stories from favorite to least favorite and gone into detail about each below. As usual, I’m annihilating my word count, so I’ve talked the most about the ones I like best!
Coleridge was a great read because of the atmosphere. In the story, Dalia is grieving her partner Zadie. Zadie died, as we slowly find out, by leaping from the third floor of the house she and Dalia have been restoring. (There’s a wonderful, subtle note that Dalia tried to join her at one point.)
Then, one day, a man claiming to be Zadie’s father, appears in Dalia’s shop. Which makes zero sense because Zadie’s father is dead and this guy doesn’t look anything like her. He wants something from their home, something Zadie found, and he won’t leave until he gets it.
There’s a lot of “supernatural but with plausible deniability” shenanigans that I love here, and Zadie and Dalia are both great. I also love the house itself, with its huge fireplace and the the wind and rain outside. And holy crap, Dalia with a sledgehammer. Excellent.
What didn’t work for me (and proceeds to not work again in the next story) is the villain obfuscating for the sake of obfuscating—or rather, for the sake of giving the reader time to get curious about what’s happening. The scene where Dalia pushes Slade closer and closer to the fire is the level of adrenaline I would expect from the moment Slade crosses the threshold, but we get a lot of on-again-off-again tension.
Taking a break from the villain monologue so Dalia can read the diary dials down the urgency of the situation. In the world where this story is a novel and has a little more space to breathe, Dalia has time to peruse it at her leisure and let the pieces add up, rather than scrambling for them.
Also, why exactly does Zadie have to die? Either I’m an idiot (a strong possibility with lots of evidence to support it) or it isn’t logically explained.
What’s more terrifying than a fortieth class reunion at the best of times? Class Reunion is both eerie and sad. Tim, in town because his mother is dying, attends a reunion for the first time. His painful past resurfaces when he greets old friends, but something odd is going on. Why was that newspaper clipping with the event in with his mother’s effects? She had dementia, after all, and could barely recognize him. Why did three classmates die before graduating. And what is it Tim can’t remember?
Don’t get me wrong, I love the plot itself. But also like why did Kenneth go to all the trouble? Okay, him being mad because Tim doesn’t remember is a great basis for the twist, but we don’t really get enough motivation. Is he in love? Was Tim his only friend, or did he do anything particularly special? There’s not enough to kill three girls, bide his time for years, dress up in a nun habit, and manipulate his former friend into returning.
However, we love a main character than uses the recorder app on their phone to catch the confession monologue and tells someone where they’re going before the big confrontation. Ten points to Tim.
One Night at the Grand blended a couple fun concepts: evil hotel and urban exploring. I wish I’d gotten to know the characters a little better; staying in the MC’s head the entire time reduced them to concepts-we get it, time and space were factors. Once again, the atmosphere was the selling point for this one!
The Devil Comes to Edgewater played with my absolute favorite thing about exorcisms: how do you know the demon is actually gone?! I enjoyed the creep factor a lot, but I didn’t think I got enough characterization for the demon, and Pam is suuuuuuper flat. I do love the last line!
Ultimately, I enjoyed this collection! I think Coleridge (and maybe The Devil Comes to Edgewater) would have worked better as a novel, but the novella format is perfect for the others.
Thanks again to Crossroad Press, and keep an eye out for this one when it drops on October 25th.