Note: this review originally appeared on my old blog (The Fiction & Film Emporium). I hope you enjoy.
Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem
Published by Solaris
Plot is as follows:
This is the hotel where our nightmares go…
It’s where horrors come to be themselves, and the dead pause to rest between worlds. Recently widowed and unemployed, Richard Carter finds a new job, and a new life for him and his daughter Serena, as manager of the mysterious Deadfall Hotel. Jacob Ascher, the caretaker, is there to show Richard the ropes, and to tell him the many rules and traditions, but from the beginning, their new world haunts and transforms them.
It’s a terrible place. As the seasons pass, the supernatural and the sublime become a part of life, as routine as a morning cup of coffee, but it’s not safe, by any means. Deadfall Hotel is where Richard and Serena will rebuild the life that was taken from them…if it doesn’t kill them first.
Deadfall Hotel is a haunted place. When the novel begins, with Richard Carter and his young daughter Serena taking on the job of the new management position for the haunted hotel, they aren’t sure what to expect. They are told by the current manager, an eccentric man by the name of Jacob Ascher, that the hotel is perfectly safe.
That can’t be further from the truth.
The hotel defies all forms of logic. Doors lead to nowhere. Staircases, depending on when you climb them, lead to different places. The guests are almost never human. And, when they are, something is terribly wrong. The book unfolds in a series of powerful vignettes. Richard and Serena moving in. Jacob attempting to teach Richard the day to day dangers of running a place that seems to have a life of its own. Danger comes from all angles. A guest that has a literal taste for children. A religious group that is harboring a deadly secret. Richard’s quest for understanding is a major through line as he struggles with the nightmarish logic of such a place. Through these episodic chapters, the relationship between Richard and Serena evolve.
Before the novel begins, Richard’s wife and Serena’s mother dies in a terrible accident. From that event, the novels theme comes to the forefront. Grief is a major force behind each story. The lengths that our characters must venture to find release from their pain is chilling.
As a gothic horror novel, Deadfall Hotel really works. Rasnic Tem’s prose is lyrical and dense, each description and plot turn helping to grow the titular hotel into the mysterious oddity that we receive. That being said, some humor, mostly from Richard’s confusion and Jacob’s cryptic instructions. Jacob and Richard’s interactions, from the calm veteran to the terrified newbie are a major highlight.
This isn’t a pop horror novel. I think, as a genre, horror is often scoffed at as being lesser than it’s more lofty, serious kin. ‘Deadfall Hotel’ destroys that old adage by being equal parts intelligent and terrifying. It’s clear that Rasnic Tem had something to tell us. A lesson to pull from the shadowed halls of the ‘Deadfall Hotel’.
If you are looking for a violent horror novel, you may want to look elsewhere. The threats, while just as tangible as a serial killer or the like, often come in the form of more psychological adversaries. In this hotel, your nightmares have a way of coming after you. While it may be light on bloodshed, the novel’s palpable atmosphere and world building are second to none. I’ve already ordered Steve Rasnic Tem’s newest novel. It’s been quite some time that I’ve read a horror novel that feels so grounded and yet so fantastical. Every chapter is a surprise. Every character is perfect.
I can’t wait to check back into the Deadfall Hotel. I hope to see you there.