We’re a long way off from Halloween, but our book reviewer Scott Southard has this scary book review to get your adrenaline pumping. Here is Scott’s take on "Mr. Splitfoot" by Samantha Hunt.
Everybody loves a good ghost story. And Samantha Hunt definitely delivers in her creepy new book, "Mr. Splitfoot." This is a tale where orphans talk to the dead, scary cults promise answers to life’s mysteries, and the only certainty anyone can hope for at the end is death.
At the heart of the novel is the story of Ruth. She is an orphan who has been abandoned by the system and lives in a foster home run by a religious zealot. Ruth is homeschooled, learning only what her foster parents teach her about the outside world. When her fellow orphan Nat begins telling people he can speak to the dead, Ruth pretends she can too. With the help of a con artist named Mr. Bell, they begin charging people who are desperate to reach lost lovers, children and parents. The sessions begin with Nat speaking in tongues, followed by brief messages and random words. As soon as the sessions are done, the three escape with their ill-gotten fortunes.
The other main character in this modern gothic tale is Ruth’s niece Cora. She is hiding a pregnancy from the disturbed father of her child. His name is Lord and he promises to steal the baby once it is born and abandon it on the steps of a hospital. One day her Aunt Ruth shows up at her house and silently beckons Cora to follow her. Ruth doesn’t explain anything to Cora, but her niece follows her without asking any questions. The two women move from small town to small town, trying to avoid the ghosts from their past. But everyone they meet along the way seems to have a ghost story of their own. From random strangers they meet on the road to the hotel workers who claim their rooms are full of dead people, Cora and Ruth never seem to lack for supernatural companions.
What propels the narrative in Mr. Splitfoot is the feeling of hungry desperation. The characters are each seeking something, whether it’s answers or money or peace of mind. That desperation adds an eeriness to the work and leaves a reader wondering if anyone can truly be trusted. It feels like there is something always hidden behind the smile.
One thing that made this book stand out is that the ghosts aren’t confined to a specific location. In most horror stories, you can find the monsters holed up in one spot or stuck to some cursed object. But in this novel, the ghosts are all around us. The feeling of unease extends beyond the creepy basement of a haunted house. It permeates the entire world.
Like most ghost stories, "Mr. Splitfoot" does come with a surprising plot twist, and this one left me kicking myself that I didn’t see it coming. It’s not often that happens for me, and it’s one of the reasons I loved this book. Luckily, I didn’t lose any sleep over it, but the inventiveness of this tale will certainly haunt me for days to come.
Scott Southard is the author of the novels "Permanent Spring Showers" and "A Jane Austen Daydream". You can follow his writing via his blog "The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" at sdsouthard.com.