Review: Speak with the Dead by Jacqueline Rohrbach

Clarence and Bryant thought an all expense trip to visit family in Wisconsin would offer a pleasant break from the doldrums of Arizona life. There was, however, a catch: Bryant’s sister bought a room where you could supposedly see and speak to the dead. Assuming the entire thing is a hoax—sea monkeys for rich people—Bryant and Clarence travel east on their family’s dime.

A surprise awaits them. The room works as advertised, allowing the human eye access to the spirit world, and the ghost inside has a thing or two to teach them about the afterlife.

Horror is my favourite genre of storytelling and has been since I was 10 years old, snuck downstairs and watched the 1989 version of The Woman in Black by myself in the middle of the night. It was thrilling because my father didn’t allow us to watch anything beyond G rated movies. Occasionally, when he was off on set somewhere else in the country, and my mother was spending another Saturday scrubbing the house from top to bottom, we snuck to my neighbourhood friend’s house and watched Indiana Jones, the scariest thing I had seen up to that point in my life (Monkey Brains anyone?).

It was also terrifying, even though by today’s standards it probably isn’t much of anything like that first feeling of terror I got back then. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since, and very few books or movies have touched that lizard brain of mine and told me to run!!

This story had the potential. I really enjoyed how imaginative it was. The set up was great and somewhat light. There was that creeping unease as the story progressed and I enjoyed the slow unveiling of the horror in Bryant’s sister’s house. It reminded me of Thirteen Ghosts in a way, and despite the crappy reviews it got, I loved the imagery of that movie. I don’t know if it’s because my dad was a special effects technician and I spent a lot of my childhood watching him create things in our backyard, how laborious it was, how much attention he spent on how it would look on film, that even if a horror movie has the worst storyline imaginable, the imagery is what I look at. This story brought that imagination out of me. I adore it for that alone.

Amy was perfectly creepy. What is it about kids as ghosts that really scares people? All the great movies have some creepy ghost kid being creepy. Staring, mumbling, engaging with the living, doing mundane things like riding a trike down a hallway. It is chilling. Bryant is completely horrified by Amy. The concept, the reality, everything, and he wants to leave immediately. His husband Clarence doesn’t seem to feel as chilled by seeing a ghost in a glass room. Maybe because he is science minded and is not really convinced the thing is real. He convinces Bryant to stay one more night. To be honest, I’d be all “fuck off, we’ll sleep in the car, forget the bags, we’ll get new phones” and been out of there. But that’s not how horror works. Every circumstance conspired against this couple until they were completely trapped. It was a great story and completely believable in the outcome of every action. I could imagine this as a longer novel, and my brain was imagining it as a full length film.

The author did a fantastic job of capturing the imagery with words so I could let my imagination run with it. As a short story, this gets high marks from me, and if there are longer horror novels out there by this author I will be seeking them out.

A review copy was provided for an honest opinion.

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