The Siren and The Specter by Jonathan Janz

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The forest was not intended for exploring. More like a barrier to keep outsiders away.

It’s 7:33 p.m. on a balmy summer evening in Northern California. I am about 25% into this book when the narrative creeps me out so thoroughly that I turned on every single light in my apartment (and it doesn’t get dark for another hour). For the remainder of the book I am captivated by the terrifying story and oscillate between abject horror of both the human and spiritual variety. Honestly I think I have like 8 highlights in my eARC that just have “NOPE” as a comment.

“So what do you think?”
Ralph peered over the river. “I think that’s the creepiest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”

Same Ralph, same.

As is usual with my horror/thriller reviews this will be a bit shorter in the interest of not spoiling this intricately plotted story. But I do want to say that this book is not for the faint of heart. I’m a lover of horror and find that it is difficult for me to be scared/surprised, but this one is absolutely haunting. The Siren and the Specter handles difficult topics that will not be for every reader. While I do not want to dissuade anyone from reading, I’d recommend checking my content warnings and the context spoiler at the bottom of my review to determine if this is the right book for you. (Also given how controversial content warnings are, I really want to take a moment to thank the author for his kind words about my review. He gets all the gold stars. 🌟 Also I just really appreciated the joy he got from my being SCARED OF THE DARK. Haha)

Anyways, back to the review!

David Caine has been invited to an old friend to stay in “the most haunted house in Virginia” with the hopes that he would write a book about his experiences. The Alexander House has a long and haunted past, and one that interestingly intersects with his career as he’s following in the footsteps of essentially his professional idol Weir; who disappeared while investigating this very house decades earlier. Books written about the event David largely debunks as hogwash that painted a skeptic as a converted believer, and there is definitely the hope that he can clear his idol’s name. The history of the house and region are revealed slowly though a historical record of sorts and I found the pacing for that information to be perfect.

David’s a renowned skeptic and absolutely hilarious. His quick wit and sarcastic banter with his inner monologue and other characters provides much needed comic relief and cuts the tension that builds as this story unfolds. Similarly I found the other characters to be well developed, each with their own unique personality.

Though the notion of a house having a personality was antithetical to his beliefs, he did like to think of a house as possessing character.

There are a lot of threads here: the horror of the MC’s past, the horror of the Shelbys and their abuseful neglect, the horrors inside the Alexander House and the terror that Judson Alexander sowed hundreds of years in the past. Janz is an incredibly talented writer who can build and maintain suspense with amazing imagery and description. This is a well plotted story that I enjoyed even though parts of it made me uncomfortable. A big theme of this book is complacency and standing up to evil.

“Evil can only triumph when good people allow it to.”

There were a couple of plot points that didn’t really make sense to me though. I was bothered by the Sheriff’s actions with the Shelbys; while as a person she likely would have wanted to stand up like that she seems to be a Letter-of-the-Law kind of person and unlikely to succumb to this instinct. I also was bothered with everyone placing blame for the suicide of a woman he loved 22 years ago. Yes he was a dick but he didn’t do anything, and unless his recollection of what happened that night was marred by time (which I don’t think is the case as he appears to be reliable) it doesn’t line up with the idea of driving someone to suicide. I can understand personally feeling guilty but not necessarily everyone else holding him accountable. This is just my opinion though!

Overall I really enjoyed this book: it was spooky, haunting, chilling, and honestly just horrifying. I liked the combination of the past and present, as well as the juxtaposition of supernatural horrors with horrible freaking people. This book won’t be for everyone but it is a great addition to the horror genre. I look forward to reading more from this author (and this new fiction imprint)!

★★★

Many thanks to the publisher for providing me an electronic advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication. The Siren and The Specter will be available on September 6, 2018. You can find information about my rating criteria here.

cw: use of slurs (addressed), suicide, child neglect (present) and abuse (MC’s past) inferred child molestation, intense sexual imagery, sexual assault. Context for these warnings matters here, so view the spoiler below for more information.

The Shelbys are neighbors of the Alexander House and have two small children who do not have the best home environment. The parents do not appear to be attentive, there are questions about the nutrition given to them (but kind of explained when reported to the sheriff), and the parents participate in rough sex and watching pornography with the children in the room/house. This situation for the children isn’t condoned and everyone else tries to help the children.

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