I picked up Deadfall Hotel, by Steve Rasnic Tem, based solely on the wonderful cover art, which fell somewhere between the lovely stuff from Edward Gorey and those glorious interior end pages of the old Hitchcock anthologies. I was familiar with his work, mainly through the odd handful of stories I have read over the years, but I had never delved into his longer works.
Deadfall Hotel is fantastic, whimsical and dark and beautiful. Imagine, if you will, spending a season in the Overlook Hotel, if it were peopled by the family from those Bradbury stories. For all his lyrical prose and stunningly surreal imagery, there is plenty of darkness and horror to be had.
Richard Carter and his young daughter, Serena, arrive at the hotel in the opening pages. They approach the front desk scarred and stained from recent tragedy. They are welcomed by Jacob, the current caretaker and the man who will “train” Richard as his successor. He will show him the ropes and rules to the hotel, a place where nothing is what it seems and even the most simple things can be dangerous.
Along Richard and Serena’s journey to accept and embrace their grief, we encounter a sinister old man and his lupine alter-ego, Dragon, the King of the Cats, disturbing housekeepers, and things that scuttle and bite. Meet the pool man, easily one of the most haunting characters I’ve read in some time.
Tem is quite masterful with his words. And even when the pacing and story become a bit slow, his language is hypnotic. The characters are rich and real. But the real star here is his cunning skill at presenting a feeling of loss and sadness. He has done this in several shorts I’ve read. The man can put that feeling of empty and sadness into words like no one else.
This is a novel about grief and what a heavy yoke it is to bear. About how it can be a many-faced monster that will devour your life, all aspects, right from under your nose.
It’s also about a creepy hotel with boarders who are not always human and not always nice. An utter joy to read.