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House of Reckoning    by John Saul order for
House of Reckoning
by John Saul
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In House of Reckoning, bestselling author John Saul gives readers a suspenseful horror story centered on those who abuse power (in historical and modern times), until tortured spirits finally serve up a harsh reckoning.

Two young victims are at the center of the maelstrom. Fourteen-year-old Sarah Crane recently lost her mother. Her grief-stricken father has been drowning his woes in booze, while Sarah does most of the chores on their Vermont farm. One night Ed Crane gets into a fight in a bar and his car runs down Sarah (who has come looking for him) on the way home. Ed is jailed for manslaughter and Sarah - after surgeries and rehab leave her with a painful hip and leg and a severe limp - is left to the not so tender mercies of foster care.

Sarah ends up with the Garveys, strict (and hypocritical) Christians who take her in for the cash and treat her as a servant. But at least Angie Garvey takes her to see her beloved father every week. Sarah is also treated as an outsider, and mocked as a cripple, in her new school - by everyone except Nick Dunnigan, who has his own problems. Nick was institutionalized for hearing voices that urge him to commit atrocities, and seeing visions. He dreads above all being sent back to the mental hospital. His meds don't help much, but he discovers that Sarah's presence stills the voices that fill his head.

Another refuge for Sarah in school turns out to be art class, where the instructor, Bettina Phillips, is impressed by Sarah's talent. But Bettina is shocked when her student draws a picture (from an earlier era) of the dillapidated mansion, Shutters, Bettina inherited from her grandfather (it used to be an asylum for the criminally insane). When Sarah mentions her new art teacher, the Garveys call Bettina a witch and order their foster child to have nothing to do with her beyond the classroom. Nick's father Shep works at the prison as does Mitch Garvey, who threatens Ed Crane if Sarah doesn't follow his orders.

Then happenings stir up the community. Bullying incidents have supernatural outcomes that rebound on the offender. Bettina realizes that something in Shutters is communicating with Nick and Sarah - and getting out of hand. If you enjoy supernatural horror and twisting psychological suspense, don't miss House of Reckoning. Though I found the depiction of the Christian community trite (while I believe fundamentalists of all creeds are at the root of many evils, they always seem to be the bad guys lately) it's a compelling read that puts those who abuse power firmly in their place.

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