Review of Darkhouse: An Experiment in Terror #1
Metal Blonde Books, 2011
By REBECCA, April 23, 2012
Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart and a yen for adventure
Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma
Ada Palomino: Perry’s fashionista little sister with questionable taste in boys
Matt & Tony: Perry’s dude-brah cousins
Uncle Al: Perry’s uncle and owner of the darkhouse who believes it’s evil
Twenty-two year old Perry Palomino is marking time as a receptionist, unsure what she wants to do with her life, and preoccupied by horrific nightmares. When she meets mysterious, camera-wielding Dex in her uncle’s abandoned lighthouse one night, she senses that things might start to change. But when she joins forces with Dex and returns to the lighthouse as a ghost hunter, she doesn’t imagine that she will find herself living her own nightmares . . . while she’s awake.
Perry’s had a rough time: her self-esteem is shot because she was heavy in high school and people are horrible, she has a history of depression and drugs, she can’t decide what she wants to do with her life, she’s currently living back home with her parents in Portland, and she’s a crap receptionist. Oh, and she may or may not be able to communicate with the dead. We’ve all been there, right?
But, is Darkhouse realism + ghosts? Or an unreliable narrator? One of the things I most enjoyed about the book is that Halle sets up the fact that Perry has used a lot of drugs and that Dex struggles with mental health, which allows for the possibility that this is a world in which ghosts are real. But it also keeps open the possibility that Perry and Dex are engaged in a tense folie à deux that could break open at any moment.
Speaking of Perry and Dex! Dex has a girlfriend in Seattle, but he’s obviously into Perry, and rightly so: she’s a brave, smart, sexy smartass. Perry isn’t sure what to think about Dex. It isn’t that she likes him, precisely . . . right? But she feels drawn to him even as she finds him infuriatingly private and a bit patronizing. Add a generous helping of terror, the dark, feeling like you might be going insane, and a shared taste in music, and, well, cue the tension, folks!
what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?
Darkhouse is legit scary, y’all. Not unpleasantly scary, but like one of the scarier episodes of Supernatural scary. Like, maybe that episode in the abandoned mental institution. What I like so much about the scary-factor, though, is that it isn’t all the time. (I was a bit creeped out when, at one point, I googled “Darkhouse” and what came up was a SPEARING supply store.)
“As I stood there on the cold, hard tiles, I felt the presence of someone behind me. Strange, I didn’t see anyone when I came in, nor did I hear the door open or close behind me.
A creepy feeling swept over me. I remembered the dream I had. Suddenly, I felt inexplicably afraid.
I hesitated at turning around. In my ‘overactive imagination’ I thought I would see something horrible, but I did it anyway.
There actually was someone there sitting on the white lobby couch. It was an old lady who looked like she was trying disastrously hard to be a young lady. She must have been about eighty, wearing a red taffeta dress adorned with tiny pom poms and outlandish makeup smeared across her face. . . . and most disturbing of all, red lipstick that was half on her lips and half on her teeth. She sat there smiling broadly at me. Frozen, it seemed, or locked in time. . . .
I walked quickly inside [the elevator] and hit the close button before anything else. I looked up at her as the doors closed. She was as still as ever, the wide, maniacal-looking grin still stretched across her face. Her eyes, white and unblinking, did not match her smile” (10-11).
The scary scenes are scary, but then there are other scenes—family scenes, twentysomething angsty scenes, funny scenes—that are the meat of the character-development and world building. This makes for such an enjoyable read because you can really sink into the different moods of each scene without white-knuckling the book and holding your breath during the humor because you’re convinced that the book is about to go “gotcha!” and do something terrifying, like in real life a horror movie.
My favorite scene takes place early in the novel, in a gas station as Perry and Dex are driving to the lighthouse to shoot the first episode of their ghost hunting show (which is called “Experiment in Terror”). Perry runs into a friend from college and a boy she knew in high school who make her feel like shit. It’s a short scene, but it establishes both Perry and Dex’s characters so well, and gives us a glimpse into the extent of the damage that Perry sustained due to the fact that a large number of people are nasty jerkfaces.
The writing is cinematic, particularly in the action sequences, and the dialogue is funny and snarky, immersing you in the story from the first scene.
Darkhouse is a great read and an awesome start to a series—I was forced to immediately buy the second book because it was addictive (see my full review here). I love that Perry is in her early twenties and Dex his early thirties. It’s definitely YA, but it’s a really nice change to have characters with different options and a bit more life under their stylish nineties belts. And, of course, I love a good scary story. I can’t wait to read what happens next! (Here are the reviews of books 3 and 4 here and here.)
Dream Catcher trilogy by Lisa McMann (Wake, 2008; Fade, 2009; Gone, 2010). Janie can’t help it: she gets sucked into other people’s dreams. When she falls into a different kind of terrifying nightmare, Janie isn’t just an observer—now she has a part to play.
The Marbury Lens (The Marbury Lens #1) by Andrew Smith (2010). When California teenager Jack dons the strange glasses given to him by a stranger in a London pub, he is transported to Marbury, a war-torn land where he must fight for his life and the lives of his friends. Love, love, love—my review is here.
Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick (2010). Christian’s parents disappeared when he was young, and ever since he has sketched obsessively, trying to remember his mother. But Christian has a nasty habit of drawing the thoughts of the people close to him. When Christian finds himself near an old man whose thoughts contain terrifying secrets, Christian’s drawings threaten to uncover an unsavory chapter in the story of his small town.
Karina Halle is a music journalist as well as a novelist (Metal Blonde Books, ya know?)—indeed, the title of the series, “Experiment in Terror,” is from a track by Mike Patton’s (other) band, Fantômas (taken from the title of an early 1960s horror movie). Karina has interviewed Chris Cornell and Liz Phair and hung out with Slayer, which automatically makes her likely to be quite awesome (and like maybe she would appreciate the story of how I almost died at a Slayer concert in Detroit). In fact, you can check out a (super good) playlist for the Experiment in Terror series here. The point, dear friends, is that although there isn’t much explicit music-talk in Darkhouse—we know that Perry is into music from her Bad Religion and Alice in Chains t-shirts, etc.—the book still evoked a really musical feeling to me, almost as if the mood it set spun a soundtrack in my mind. And I love that. So, without further ado, the song that Darkhouse most evoked for me? Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates”:
Procured from: birthday present (thanks mom and dad!)