Shepherd’s Warning: Cailyn Lloyd
Reviewed By Tarn Richardson
The haunted house novel is as old as the horror genre itself, Horace Walpole first suggesting the concept back in 1764 with his epic, if now rather dated, The Castle of Otranto. Haunted houses work as a backdrop to a story because homes are supposed to be a place of safety and peace. Add into the mix, as Lloyd does here, a young family trying to renovate this haunted piece of real estate, their new home, whilst suffering suspicions and warnings at every turn, and you have a rich and heady brew for a cracking old fashioned ghost story.
Shepherd’s Warning introduces us to Lucas and Laura, Nathan and Ashley, two brothers and wives who inherit a haunted house in rural Wisconsin and promptly dust off their bandsaws, harden their hammers and strip off their sanders as they begin the task of renovating the old wreck. But the passage of time, and life itself come to that, never does flow easily, especially in a horror story, and it’s quickly revealed that a tragedy follows all of them into the building, made all the worse that the building itself is built upon tragedy.
From this start point, horror begins to consume them throughout its 500 odd pages as wicked acts from history’s past begin to bubble up from the floorboards of the place.
There’s a lot to like about this novel. The writing is sharp, the plot construction and pacing excellent and character arcs satisfying, drawing all threads to the suitably exciting and violent climax. It’s an easy read, but a thoughtful and ambitious one too. I’ve already mentioned the length of it, a decent tome to get your teeth into, to set aside a few nights for and allow yourself to become thoroughly immersed. There’s also clearly a lot of research that’s gone into this book which gives it an authenticity. It could have been far easier to have featured a house with a more recent traditional American past, early settler history perhaps? But Lloyd has gone further back to English Tudor history and sifted for historical gems to weave into the plot. As a result, the author has managed to produce something that feels more accomplished and weightier. A Tudor house in the American countryside? Now that surely means that something is awry for its inhabitants!
You always look, intentionally or not, for comparisons when reading a book, and the obvious one with Shepherd’s Warning is The Shining, the menace of the building becoming an entity in itself, slowly possessing characters living under its damned roof. If you’re a fan of King’s work, then you’ll recognise and hopefully enjoy the slow burn of this, the breakdown and change of characters, the ghostly visitations, the closing storm towards the end of proceedings.
Perhaps as a horror novel it doesn’t quite get under your skin like other titles might? Indeed, Shepherd’s Warning might fare just as well as a psychological thriller. It also loses just a little through inconsistencies and oversights. For example, a significant and horrifying health and safety moment early on in the book, that floored me as a reader when I reached that part, is never referred to again. The initial involvement of a TV show covering renovation also didn’t feel necessary and is neglected later.
But those are minor flies in an otherwise thoroughly rich and rewarding ointment that should be smeared liberally around any trapdoor, boarded up room or wall cavity within which you suspect a body might be buried.
For years the abandoned MacKenzie mansion remained hidden in rural Wisconsin. Rumors and stories of apparitions, odd noises, accidents, and strange deaths in or near the property were enough to convince the townsfolk it was haunted and they stayed away.
Lucas MacKenzie and his brother Nate know nothing of this when they inherit the property and decide to bring their families to Wisconsin for a major renovation project with HGTV stardom in mind. As they tear out old fixtures and open shuttered windows, the house begins to reveal secrets of a terrible past and it soon becomes clear the MacKenzies are in grave danger. In the end, only one person can save them.
Tarn Richardson was brought up a fan of fantasy and horror, in a remote house, rumoured to be haunted, near Taunton, Somerset. He is the author of THE DARKEST HAND series, published by Duckworth Overlook in 2015-2017 and republished by RedDoor in 2019. Comprising of THE DAMNED, THE FALLEN, THE RISEN, and free eBook prequel THE HUNTED, the books tell the epic story of Inquisitor Poldek Tacit, battling the forces of evil to the backdrop of World War One. He has also written the novels, RIPPED, and THE VILLAGE IN THE WOODS, to be published in 2020 and 2021. He lives near Salisbury with this wife, the portraiture artist Caroline Richardson, and their two sons.
Official Website www.tarnrichardson.co.uk