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The Haunting of Derek Stone by Tony Abbott
"The Haunting of Derek Stone" is actually a four-part series, but I bought it in a two-book format -- the first two books, "City of the Dead" and "Bayou Dogs" in one book and the second two books, "The Red House" and "The Ghost Road" in another. Since the story runs continuously from one book to the next, I am going to review it as one long book, rather than four individual ones. I am also going to spoil the heck out of the first book. Lots of surprises await in the last three, so I figure that the details of the first one will give you a good taste of the series without spoiling too much.
Derek Stone is a brainy, overweight kid who doesn't believe in anything he can't see or touch. He also had a traumatic near-drowning experience when he was four, which caused him to lose the hearing in his left ear. Soon after the near-drowning, his mother left for France. Derek lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans with his father and his elder brother, Ronny.
As the book begins the year is 2008. Derek, Ronny, and their dad are riding home on a train from a convention. The bridge they are on collapses, sending nine people, including Ronny and Ronny and Derek's dad, to their apparent deaths. Before falling from the train, Ronny saves the life of another passenger on the train, a young girl named Abby, who ends up in a coma.
A month later, Ronny turns up alive. He has been living for some time in an abandoned building and he seems to have no memory of who he is. At least, he doesn't remember Derek or their home in New Orleans. And he certainly doesn't respond to the name "Ronny."
Derek does some research, starting with a word that he overheard Ronny use, "Angola." He discovers that Angola is the name of the town closest to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, and that a train on the way to the penitentiary in 1938 crashed in the same place that the train that he, Ronny, and their dad was on did. He does some further research and talks to a few people and eventually puts together that there is a rift in the veil between the living and the dead, and that Ronny's soul has gone on to its reward. Ronny's body, however, has returned with the soul of a young prison guard named Virgil Black.
Derek gets Ronny -- he continues to think of him as Ronny, regardless of who is actually in there now -- to open up about what is going on and discovers that there is a war in the afterlife. Most good souls apparently go one place, but somehow some of the good souls end up in another place, where there is a war going on between the good and the evil souls. The evil souls are winning. The evil souls want to use the rift to bring their battle to the outside world, and Virgil has returned to try to stop them.
One of the prisoners on the train that crashed in 1938 was a psychotic arsonist named Erskin Cane. Cane has also returned and he targets Derek and Ronny and sets their house on fire.
Meanwhile, Derek runs into his supposedly dead father on a trolley. Derek's father tells Derek that Abby has information that is vital to their mission. His father also tells Derek to go to his mother's family crypt, where there will be a clue to where they are supposed to meet next. At the crypt is a bouquet of flowers with the word "Bonton" on the card. Bonton was a friend of Derek's father. He is the friend, in fact, that their family had been visiting when Derek had his near-drowning experience.
So, together, Ronny and Derek take off for the bayou to meet with Bonton.
Overall, this is a fantastic series. Even the second time I read it, I had a hard time putting it down. Since I had to work the next day, I was not in the best shape at work. But it was worth it.
It is chilling, gripping, and spine-tingling -- all that a good supernatural thriller needs to be. I'm not sure if Abbott has written any other supernatural books but if he hasn't, he should. He has a real talent for it.
Some of the architectural and geographical details seem to be a little dubious. Any research I have done into either the "faux chambre" or "Bordelon Gap" have only turned up references to this series. Of course, I wasn't expecting the small towns and mansions and things to be real, and they aren't. However, some of the facts check out in real life. The Dixie Museum really is under the War Memorial Tower on the campus of Louisiana State University. And, of course, the Louisiana State Penitentiary really is located outside of Angola, Louisiana.
There are still several unanswered questions at the end of the series, which is mildly frustrating, but Abbott has left the door open for more books about Derek, so I hope that we may yet get the answers someday.