Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Woman Fights Demons From Her Past in 'The Skull Ring'

Review: THE SKULL RING (Haunted Computer Books 2010) (Kindle edition)
Author: Scott Nicholson

At first glance, Julia Stone seems almost paranoid. She jumps at things that go bump in the night and seems to worry excessively. Then she comes home to find children's alphabetic blocks arranged on her coffee table, to spell out her name in the spooky way her father used to say it -- "Jooolia."

At this point, you start to feel the tingle of fear that runs up Julia's spine. The shadows in the house could easily hide creeps or demons. Thus, you're quickly pulled into Julia's world of terror and doubt.

Julia has fled from Memphis to the backwoods of Elkwood, North Carolina, looking for a quiet place to recover from deep psychological wounds inflicted by a terrible childhood trauma. The details of this trauma have been dredged up through therapy sessions that provide anything but comfort.

The nightmare of Julia's life, spent constantly peering into shadows and looking over her shoulder for creeps who may be after her, is examined up close and personal. A journalist, who's engaged to a young up-and-coming attorney from the "right" family, Julia harbors last-minute doubts about their relationship, along with growing doubts about her memories, her mental competence and even her sanity.

What ensues is a psychological suspense story that explores issues as varied as the existence of God and Satan, the reliability of recovered memories, the efficacy of psychotherapy, class distinctions (in the form of her attorney fiance and a friendly handyman/rival love interest), the virtues of risky individualism versus the safety of the status quo and the challenge of fighting the powers that be.

As the story unfolds, Julia is pushed by her therapist, Dr. Pamela Forrest, to explore the mystery surrounding her father, who's been missing ever since one terrible night when the unthinkable happened. This mystery is woven skillfully into the narrative which focuses on horrific crimes involving Satanic rituals -- the kind of ritual to which Julia recalls being subjected.

Scott Nicholson's vivid prose places the reader right inside Julia's skin. He draws out each of her actions with an almost slow-motion cinematic quality. The quiet woods around her house become a place of deep shadows and suspicious movements. Red eyes glow at her through her window. Her bedside clock is mysteriously stuck on 4:06 (numbers that end up being significant). She tapes one television program only to find a hell-fire Christian evangelist ranting in its place.

As the truth comes out, the story builds with pulse-pounding speed toward a breathtaking conclusion. Throughout the story, the question of who Julia can trust is omnipresent. THE SKULL RING is a perfect example of the maxim that just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean no one's after you.

(Disclosure: The reviewer received a free advance review copy of this e-book, for review purposes only.)

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