‘The Book of Accidents’ is a slow building horror novel, gradually ramping up the tension and secrecy before unleashing terror on its characters. It draws on classics of the genre but puts its own spin on them, maintaining a feeling of freshness and uniqueness. Fans of classic horror writers and tension-packed reads can find plenty to love here.
When Nate’s abusive father finally dies, he finds himself doing something he swore he’d never do – moving back into his childhood home, this time with his own family in tow. His son, Oliver, wants a fresh start after a series of embarrassing incidents at school, and his wife, Maddie, is delighted by the idea of having her own space to fully explore her art. However, it isn’t long before strange things start happening. Nate keeps seeing his father’s ghost walking the halls. One of Maddie’s sculptures comes to life. And Oliver finds himself befriending a strange boy – one with an even stranger book who claims he can do magic. Everyone in the Graves family has secrets – and with something sinister stalking Pennsylvania, those secrets could be deadly.
At nearly 550 pages, ‘The Book of Accidents’ is a reasonably long novel, and most of what happens isn’t touched on by the blurb. This is the best way to go into it – this way, the revelations are more surprising, and the level of tension is higher. All I’ll say is that it starts off reminiscent of a haunted house story, but very quickly diverges into something much more complex. There’s a lot going on, and in places it isn’t clear what’s real and what isn’t. Wendig uses a great deal of foreshadowing and leaves plenty of clues, but there are shocks in store for even the most alert reader. It’s very cleverly done.
The story alternates between Nate, Oliver, and Maddie, with very occasional forays into other perspectives. All are complex characters with their own appeal. Oliver is an absolute sweetheart – at fifteen, he’s been sent to therapy for being too empathetic. He can physically see other people’s pain, and he finds being in crowds of people – like at school – distressing because of the amount of pain on display. However, he can’t tell anyone this because they’d think he was mad, so instead everyone thinks he’s a weirdo and a wimp. Oliver just wants to help everyone, and his isolation makes him naive and easily mislead. He makes a lot of mistakes, but its hard to dislike someone with such a pure heart.
Nate has been a big city cop for years, and going back to work in the fish and game department of the town he grew up in is a huge adjustment. His dad beat him, and Nate is determined to be better, but readjusting to a place he thought he’d escaped forever is difficult for him. His new colleagues don’t trust him, his family is keeping secrets, and he’s seeing ghosts. Like Oliver, Nate is intrinsically a nice guy – but unlike Oliver, Nate is a cynic, worn down by the world and inclined to think the worst of everyone. It’s never clear quite where Nate’s moral lines are drawn – he regularly feels one step away from doing something he’ll regret. However, he sees that in himself, and it’s that recognition and fight against it that makes him a good person.
Maddie is an artist – but not the scatterbrained type. Instead, she’s a planner, constantly overthinking and worrying and getting through life by making a hundred lists of everything she has to do. Her art is her escape. Maddie is a bit spoilt and pampered, but she loves her family and she’s incredibly practical. She knows her own worth and has an independent streak that makes her husband worry but also love her for it. Maddie takes the longest to understand, but by the end its impossible not to root for her.
The atmosphere is one of the strongest parts of this book. The hints that something isn’t right start early, and every chapter has a sense of unease and darkness. There’s also a constant sense of unrealiability – uncertainty that what’s happening is real. Even the quieter chapters become engaging and readable because of the atmosphere surrounding them.
There are a few minor quibbles. This is on the longer side for a horror novel, and it takes some time to get into. The first 150 pages are especially slow, essentially setting the scene and introducing the threat, and while from there the pace picks up and it becomes very readable, the first 150 could really be trimmed down without losing the overall atmosphere. There are also a couple of twists which are slightly over-hinted at, losing a little tension. However, these are only small blips in an otherwise excellent book.
Overall, ‘The Book of Accidents’ is an excellent, atmospheric horror novel packed with gradually escalating tension and wonderful complex characters. Recommended for fans of classic horror stories, intriguing characters, and books that leave you unsettled.
Thanks to Del Rey for providing an ARC – this in no way affects the content of this review
Published by Del Rey
Hardback: 20th July 2021