Publication Date: February 18, 2013
High school student, Daniel Townsend, is on top of the world when he finds out that his father has lung cancer. Suddenly the future that seemed so certain isn’t, and Daniel knows that he must help his father no matter what the cost personally. When Daniel is killed in a head on, hit and run collision, his friend and girlfriend make it their mission to find out what happened. But what role does a crumbling mansion and an old man doesn’t seem to be who he says he is play into the equation?
The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff is Calvin Dean’s first novel. I was given a copy of this work by the author in exchange for my review.
I did not go into this novel expecting to like it. Horror is good, but young adult horror? I guess I expected something more restrained. Not only does Dean produce a novel appropriate for an older young adult audience, but what he does has to be one of the best and most unique horror novels I’ve read.
It must be said that Deans knows how to set a mood. The creepy settings and spooky going-ons are downright ominous and written with an air of urgency. Through the inevitable twists and turns of the story, there is a weight of expectation and knowledge that something big is coming and will not disappoint. There is a Civil War history aspect that not only blends well, but lends credence to the “anything can happen” feeling one has while reading through the novel.
When Dean killed Daniel off in the first few pages and made clear that Marc would be a main character, the placing seemed implausible. What we know from the first part of the novel is that Marc is annoying and a bit of a know-it-all (he tells an assembled group that he knew what shot Daniel would make is his game-winning basket because that’s his signature shot). Dean develops Marc into an interesting and fully-rounded character that balances well with his fellow sleuth Angela, Daniel’s girlfriend. Juxtaposing a male and female character was an extremely clever play on the part of Dean’s as it leads the novel to appeal to both girls and boys. I love, as a female, that Angela is a strong character who doesn’t act the wilting flower. When faced with the unknown she is strong and not unrealistically so.
John, Angela’s brother, is the adult investigator on the case on the behalf of the police and really for his sister. He is fully integrated and developed into the story in a way realistic for children and keeping the novel from “The Scooby Gang and the Haunted Mansion” for the adults. There is a respect inherent in the characters that connects them all. When Barloff collapses, Angela is by his side and treating him with concern and interest. Deans has a talent for writing in that he doesn’t bog the reader down with endless exposition but manages to develop both story and character with few words but huge impact.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ending. The ending was spectacular and my favorite part. I won’t spoil it for anyone. If you like horror and novels that reference history, give this one a shot. I wouldn’t even call this just for the YA market. The characters are young, but the plotting, writing, story progression and theme is suitable for all ages. The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff is a five star novel without question or hesitation. Pick it up today.