House of Echoes: A Novel
“Brendan Duffy keeps readers on a rollercoaster of mystery and suspense, saving the best for last.”
House of Echoes does not appear to be written by a debut author. Brendan Duffy demonstrates writing skills expected from a writer who has produced several novels. His mastery of suspense and intrigue is spellbinding as he leads the reader through the unsettling history of the town known as Swannhaven.
This story begins as a young couple, Ben and Caroline Tierney, decide to forgo their hectic life in New York City to start anew upstate. Ben has inherited property and a huge house from his deceased grandmother. The couple’s plan is to renovate the estate, known as The Crofts, and make it into a bed and breakfast.
Caroline formerly worked at a bank but was laid off. Her financial acumen convinces her that their new venture could be a success. Ben, a writer, relies heavily on his wife’s assessment. His main concern is the new novel he’s writing. He’s under pressure to succeed, since his second novel did not. With their two young sons in tow, they make the move and begin the arduous task of fixing up an ancient mansion by themselves.
As the family settles into their new life, problems emerge. Caroline obsesses over the renovation and develops a troublesome bipolar problem. Ben develops writer’s block, and their son, eight-year-old Charlie, who must integrate into a new school after having been bullied at his old one, becomes more introverted and secretive.
But the town of Swannhaven is the bigger problem. Rife with secrets, many of which reveal themselves as Ben’s curiosity compels him to investigate the all too many strange occurrences surrounding The Crofts, Ben senses he’s being misled.
At the same time, a strange presence begins to insert itself into the Tierney’s daily lives. Charlie, in particular, senses something is different about the acres of woods surrounding the estate. The boy spends most of his time in the forest, learning survival techniques from a book named Hickory Heck, about a boy who’d left his city life to live in the wild. But Charlie suspects there is a “watcher” in the woods following his every move.
Ben and Caroline ultimately discover their new home has a dark and mysterious past, one tied to Swannhaven’s strange residents. A journal is discovered, one written in 1777 by one of the first settlers of the town. It vividly depicts the struggle the Swannhaven settlers endured during a brutal winter in which Indians attacked the entire town. The surviving families took refuge in The Crofts, freezing and starving during the winter long siege, as they tried to survive continued Indian raids and diminishing food and firewood.
Ben attends town meetings and privately speaks with civic leaders as he attempts to discover the truth about what really happened during that defining winter in the town’s past. What he learns, however, is the townspeople are not forthcoming with the truth, and one important secret will prove to be the very thing that threatens the Tierneys’ lives.
The author’s use of imagery, particularly while describing the foreboding forest surrounding the estate, adds pleasure to an otherwise scary tale. Brendan Duffy keeps readers on a rollercoaster of mystery and suspense, saving the best for last. His buildup to the finale is masterful, finally revealing the demon in the woods that terrorized the newcomers throughout the story. His use of the Tierney’s son, Charlie, is excellent, as the boy at times seems to be the only person able to see the danger confronting the family.
House of Echoes is one of those stories where you know something bad is going to happen, but you hope it won’t. It’s one you’ll remember long after reading the last page.