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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Laugh in the Dark by Lynn Hones

Laugh in the Dark by Lynn Hones
Publisher: Devine Destinies Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Horror
Length: Short Story (142 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 books
Reviewed by Lily

How many times have the carts run through the funhouse at Conniesyaught Park? After one hundred years, Nick and May Baldwin and their four children figure plenty. It’s what’s inside the funhouse, however, that won’t let them rest at night and keeps them looking over their shoulders during the day. After sitting abandoned and forlorn for over thirty years, they bought the old park and hotel on the lake with the good intentions of refurbishing it. Unfortunately, not everything or everyone in life wants to be restored and the family finds out the hard way when ghosts of the past make their presence known to the future, in an ominous and uninviting manner.

Have you ever read a book and, at the same time, had another book in mind? This is not to say that Laugh in the Dark has used someone else’s plot, but as I read it I couldn’t stop thinking of Stephen King’s The Shining. It might have been the abandoned hotel or the two little-sister ghosts who scare the living daylights out of the book’s characters. Or maybe I was just expecting the family’s father, Nick Connelly, a mild-natured and likeable character, to suddenly break down the door with an ax and yell, “It’s Johnny!”

But I’m not going there yet. In any case, it’s a hammer not an ax in Laugh in the Dark.

The story opens with Nick and May Connors, who have four children in their new home – an abandoned hotel and park that houses a dilapidated funfair. Their intention is to renovate it all and return it to its old glory-days. There’s very little back-story at this point and the reader wonders just why May is so snarky with her husband, nor why she hates Clem the groundskeeper who, despite being able to haul heavy packages, work full-time, go fishing in a torrent and thunderstorm, and is “built strong and compact…a human tank” is, apparently, around a hundred years old. Perhaps Ms Hones belabors May’s ill-nature at the point she won’t even let the old man have one of the toasted sandwiches that fell on the floor.

As the story unfolds secrets are revealed: May has had an affair with an Englishman but Nick has forgiven her and, in order to get their marriage back on track, they’ve moved to the hotel. It still doesn’t explain her apparent impatience which borders on dislike for Nick, though. The other way round would have been more plausible.

However, the pace soon picks up and the plot becomes more engrossing. Clem is not all the incredibly sprightly centenarian he seems to be and perhaps he deserves May saying, “he’s a lying snake in the grass”. The ghosts of young sisters, their older brother and their mother are manifesting in the hotel and around the grounds, the girls singing lurid songs about a father hammering his family to death. And something, or someone – could it be Clem? – is turning Nick’s character from one of loving father into a hammer-wielding maniac.

The undercurrent of tension becomes pure drama with the strange occupants in room 13, the evil mechanical woman - Laughing Lucy - who attacks Nick, and the terrifying cart ride through the Laugh in the Dark tunnel, all of which is beautifully portrayed.

The weakness in the book was the beginning and the bewildering personality of May with whom this reader could not relate, nor care about. The other characters are not rounded enough, nor, in the case of Clem, totally believable. Yet once the dark drama begins to unfold nothing is as it seems and characters become more real. Is Clem really the bad seed?

If the reader will just get over the first quarter of the book, then I promise an unpredictable ending in a dark sort of way and a tale of horror that can match any Stephen King.

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