Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'The Tale of Halcyon Crane' Proves to be Hauntingly Entertaining

Hallie James lost both her father and her mother in just a few short days. Her father, she had counted on losing since his downward spiral into dementia forced her to seek help from a local assisted living home. Her mother, she thought she had lost long ago. In a letter from a far away law firm, Hallie learns of her mother's very recent death. Having been told her entire life that her mother perished in a house fire when she was five years old, Hallie is understandably shaken. With little left in her coastal Washington state town, Hallie makes a trek to Lake Superior and the remote island of Grand Manitou. She finds out upon her arrival that there are more than simple family secrets to discover. When strange and frightening things begin to happen in her family's homestead, Hallie begins to wonder if ghosts exist after all.

The Tale of Halcyon Crane
author Wendy Webb has been a journalist for more than twenty years, and journalism's straight-forward style of writing is evident in the novel. While a spine-chilling tale of ghosts and ancestors and secrets long buried emerges, Webb does so on a lower reading level than most literary mysteries. The book, even with its adult characters and situations, reads almost like a young adult novel. Even as I say that, I must admit that I highly enjoyed the late, scary nights that I was reading Halcyon Crane. Word choice leaned more towards young adult, as did some of Webb's plot development. Hallie falls immediately in love with her mother's lawyer and her own childhood friend, within days of meeting him. I found the supposed love story a bit thin and immature as a result of its haste. Also, the plot varies between present-day action and tales of Hallie's family relayed to her by a woman who claims to be the household maid. Many indicators tell readers that there is more to this woman than meets the eye, a fact which ends up to be true in the end and of which Hallie seems perpetually ignorant.

Despite some of the less developed or literary traits of Webb's writing and of the novel in general, The Tale of Halcyon Crane remains a fun and entertaining read. Some of the flashback and ghost scenes are spectacularly spooky. I tossed and turned whenever I could finally get to sleep for the duration of my reading the book. And perhaps most effective is Webb's development of the island itself as a character in the novel. Based on Lake Michigan's Mackinac Island rather than the similarly-named North and South Manitou islands, Webb's fictional Grand Manitou is a picturesque version of an old-school resort community in the Great Lakes. Like Mackinac, Grand Manitou has no motorized vehicles, residents instead traveling by horse and carriage, bicycle, or foot. The minimal modern conveniences lend both a quaint homeyness and a forboding sense of gloom to the Victorian-style island.

Overall, Halcyon Crane was neither the best nor the worst book I've read this year. I will look forward to Webb's next novel and to following her development as a new fiction writer from her long-time career as a journalist. Many book bloggers and reviewers had only glowing things to say about this gothic novel. Read an excerpt to decide whether or not you'll visit the creepy island yourself.

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