A LIFE FILLED WITH ANGUISH
Pain, horror, fear- These are the things that bestselling novelist Lance Metzger's life have been comprised of. His childhood remains a riddled wasteland of abuse by a sadistic father and the abandonment of an apathetic mother. In turn, his only refuge became his writing.
A SANCTUARY, BROKEN
When Lance loses his ability to write and becomes haunted by a nightmare that he'd thought was buried, he is drawn inexplicably to a house on the shores of Lake Superior where he finds his muse once again, but something is waiting for him when he arrives.
AN EVIL WITHOUT BOUNDARIES
Now he must unlock the devastating secrets that the house holds and uncover the mystery of his own broken past before he loses his sanity, and perhaps his soul.
Last year I read and reviewed my first Joe Hart novel, The River is Dark. I was thoroughly impressed with it, and ran right out and bought Lineage. Lineage is billed as a supernatural thriller, and it lives up to the title. I love a good ghost story, and this is the best ghost story that I have read since Stephen King’s Bag of Bones. I’ve read Bag of Bones at least ten times, so when I compare the two, you know I mean business. In fact, I was reading another of King’s novels concurrently while reading Lineage, and I almost had to remind myself that King didn’t write this novel.
IT’S THAT GOOD.
I almost expected to see a Dark Tower reference pop up in there somewhere. (LOL) Now, on-wards with the shameless gushing and blatant adoration for this wonderfully twisty piece of awesomeness. As always, please be aware that there will be spoilers in this review - I’ll try to keep them to a minimum, but I make no promises. This story begs to be told over and over again.
For the first prologue scene we are brought to a place that just in the mentioning evokes terror and horror. The book opens in a concentration camp. The commandant of the camp, called Oberfuhrer by his soldiers, has just gotten word to evacuate camp and retreat to Berlin due to the advancing Allies. He calls his wife, straps on a belt of knives, then proceeds to order the camp “disassembled”, which you may have guessed, means killing all of the prisoners. They line up a group in front of a ditch, and start killing them, one by one. The Oberfuhrer himself is there at the ditch. We switch to seeing through the eyes of a young boy, standing there at the ditch with his mother and father. The Oberfuhrer kills the first prisoner in the line with one of his many knives. It’s obvious that he gets off on it, that he loves to kill, and as loves to kill as messily and painfully as possible. He’s almost in a trance watching them bleed out onto the snow.
He and the soldiers with him start killing all of the prisoners; the soldiers shooting the ones that try to run away. The boy’s father lunges for a soldier, breaking his nose and getting his gun. It’s no use, and the Oberfuhrer kills him, his mother is hit by stray gunfire, and the little boy is in shock watching his parents bleed out onto the cold ground. The officer strikes out at him with one of his knives and the boy jumps back, getting sliced across his nose and cheek, and falling into the ditch behind him onto the rest of the dead. Suddenly, a huge noise from overhead….a plane crashes almost directly on top of them. In the wreckage and confusion, the little boy climbs out of the ditch and hauls ass for the forest on the edge of the camp. The Oberfuhrer shoots at him, but for all the proficiency that he handles his beloved knives, he’s a shitty shot, and cannot tell for sure if he hit his target. He leaves the camp, and we move on to the next part of this story.
Part one of the story is set in Black Lake Minnesota, in 1990. When I first read this, I missed the year. This whole part read to me like something set in a much earlier time, like 1950’s era, and I was surprised to go back and see that it was set in such a modern time. It couldn’t have happened any other way, of course, but it reminded me that the things that happened in this portion of the book do happen in this day and age, and are happening right now, today. We meet another young boy, nine year old Lance Metzger. His family scratches out a living as a family farm, growing alfalfa, raising chicken and cattle. Lance’s dad is one of those princes of society (sarcasm, people) that get their jollies beating the crap out of their women and children. The abuse that Anthony, his father, puts Lance and his mother through is just cringe worthy, and I found myself hoping that his mom would finally have enough and just break and kill this son of a bitch already!
Alas, it’s just business as usual around Lance’s house, and the only escape he has from this misery is his notebook, where he writes out his feelings in poetry and later in short stories. Late one October night, Lance is awakened by his mother, and they quietly slip out of the house, and push the car down the driveway. They race for town, looking back over their shoulders the whole time, sure that Anthony will appear behind them like some demon on their tail. They almost make it….but Anthony knew a shortcut, and blocks of the road with his truck. He holds a shotgun on them, ordering them back to the house. Lance’s mother turns the car around. (By now I’m screaming at the book for her to just run this s.o.b. over and be done with it, but hey, I didn’t write it, so….) By the time they get back to the house it’s obvious that his mom knows she’s going to die. She tells Lance that when she tells him, to run and not look back, run until he reaches a neighbor’s house. But Lance is still just a nine year old boy, and his father catches him easily. Anthony cracks Lance such a hard shot to the head that the poor kid is delirious for hours. When he does wake up and asks where his mother is, Anthony breaks his jaw for good measure. Lance is in and out of consciousness for about a week from this treatment.
The sheriff of the small town doesn't believe Anthony’s claims that his wife ran away, or that Lance has had mono for the last two weeks since her disappearance. The sheriff tells Lance that all he has to do is say the word, tell him that his father has been hitting on him, and the sheriff will take him away. Lance knows better though, and doesn’t say a word, knowing that Anthony will likely beat the hell out of him anyway. The sheriff tells Lance to call him if he needs him, and warns Anthony that if “I see one mark on that boy ever again, I’ll find you, and I won’t be wearing this badge”
Time passes, and in December the sheriff comes to Lance’s school to give the annual “say-no-to-drugs” talk. He tries to speak to Lance about his father again, and again, Lance keeps his mouth shut. The sheriff sees a bruise on Lance’s neck and needs no more confirmation. Lance passes the rest of the afternoon in absolute terror that the sheriff has made good on his threat. When he gets home his worst nightmare comes true….the sheriff has thrown his daddy a good beating. Any vindication I felt was short lived however, when Anthony took Lance’s most prized possession, his notebook of poems and stories, his only outlet, and burned it right in front of the poor kid’s eyes. And laughed while he did it, mind you. I literally cussed out the book then. Anyone who writes, who creates, can tell you - that is the greatest crime, the greatest hurt that you can do to them.
Damn, I almost cried for the poor kid. Lance just shuts down after that, going through life as best he can. We next pick up with him in July, and he is in the field with his father working. Lance is on a trailer, hauling bales of alfalfa while his father runs the baler. As old equipment will, the baler jammed. Anthony orders Lance to stay on the trailer. He does as he’s told. The baler snaps down on his father’s hand, and before Lance can so much as twitch, it snatches Anthony off of his feet and into the machine. Lance falls out, and knows nothing more until the evening, when the sheriff shakes him awake. The tractor ran until it ran out of fuel, and Lance is sunburned and dehydrated having laid in shock in the hot field all afternoon.
Now, we reach part two, and the main meat of this story. Lance is all grown up now, and a successful novelist. Lance has a problem, though. We first encounter him while he’s in the grips of a nightmare about his father. While it’s not so surprising that he would be having nightmares about the man, what worries Lance more is that he has had writer’s block ever since the nightmare started, about six weeks ago. It’s obvious that his past still haunts him terribly, as evidenced in the fight and breakup he has with his girlfriend Ellen the next morning. She’s pissed because he won’t tell her about his past, won’t let her help him, while Lance just wants her to leave it alone. He and his agent/best friend Andy attend a meeting with some bigwigs at Lane’s publisher. They are pissed that he has to push back the date on his newest novel, the one that he’s developed writer’s block on. Andy pretty much tells them to shove it, and later tells Lance that he needs to take a vacation.
Lance finally breaks down after his next nightmare and calls his therapist. His therapist tells him that the dream is his own mind trying to hang on to the past - because he’s grown now, he’s ready to let go of his past and all of the anger attached to it. He tells him to take a vacation, ironically. A couple of days after that he sits down at the computer almost in a trance, and wakes up later to find that he has written a paragraph - a description of a gray stone house, on the shores of Lake Superior. As he reads over it, a picture forms in his head of this house, right down to the bay windows and the gazebo out back - and the main character that lives there. More and more details become clear; the man is in mourning, but for what and why?. On a whim he does a Google image search (Gotta love Google!) and boom - there’s the house, just as he pictured it. And it’s for sale. He calls the realty company and schedules a tour right then and there. As he’s driving down he’s thinking about the story that’s cooking on the back burner of his brain.
The main character starts forming up for him, and as any writer will tell you, when the voices start talking, you better be listening. He gets a mental picture of the man’s wife and daughter so strongly that he looks over to the passenger seat and swears that he sees a woman sitting there. He looks in the rearview mirror and sees not his own face reflected back at him, but the face of the character. That’s just the beginning of the strangeness that will happen to Lance in the coming chapters.
He tours the house and despite the warning from the crusty old caretaker (“There’s nothing here for you”) he buys the house. From his first night the place seems to be haunted. He hears footsteps in hallway and shadows out of the corner of his eye. He feels like he’s being watched. There's a stain on the living room floor that only appears at night and disappears during the day. There’s a door in the front room that is stuck shut, the key won’t even open it. He having bone chilling dreams that feature a man with the lower half of his face shredded, dreams that also feature the bay outside of the house. He's sure that someone is breaking in and messing with him. He confronts caretaker twice, who is angry at the accusation. He eventually winds up buying a shotgun and after that the hauntings stop for a bit. The caretaker, John, apologizes, says they got off on the wrong foot. They become friends. He also becomes friends with guy from gun shop, Stub. (Awesome name for a guy with a gun store, huh?)
Weeks pass, and he adjusts to life in the little town. He has a crush on Mary, the girl who runs the bookshop. He got a big surprise when he first saw her, because she is the spitting image of the woman he “saw” in his car on the way into town. In spite of all this wackiness at night, he is writing like a house afire, every day for hours and hours at a time, almost in a trance like state. Andy comes down to spend the night, to check up on him and the novel he’s writing. He organizes a little party with John and Stub, and a good time is had by all. He wakes up in the middle of the night with a bad feeling and finds Andy out in the lake. When he reaches him and turns him around for a moment he sees the shredded face that he has been dreaming of instead of his friend. Andy speaks in a voice not his own, two words: “Down below.”
Lance tries to pull him out but they are both nearly pulled into the steep drop off into the bay by what seems like dead rotting hands. He gets Andy back to the house and warmed up but Andy doesn't remember anything about what happened the next day. Nor does he remember telling Lance before falling back asleep that “there’s so many” of something out in the bay. He is creeped out by the place, and tells Lance to hurry up and finish the book, and get the heck out of that house.
Lance and Mary go out to dinner the night after Andy leaves. While at dinner he hallucinates his father peeking at him from around a pillar. When he goes to check it out the other diners were of course not his father, and Lance is concerned that this sort of thing is happening to him more and more often. He and Mary take a walk on the beach and he tells her the whole ugly truth of his childhood. He doesn’t want to make the same mistakes he made with Ellen keeping her at arms length. To his surprise Mary doesn’t run for the hills. When they came back to the restaurant they run into Josie, a lady he had met previously at the grocery store and her husband Harold. Harold is the local historian and Lance is shocked when he says “So you’re the one who bought the old Metzger place.”
Turns out the house he bought should have been his by right anyway--his grandfather built the place, his father was raised there. He goes straight to John, who knew all along. John tells him the whole story. Erwin and Annette Metzger immigrated from Germany, shortly after WW2. They harbored as many Jews as possible until they were caught by the SS. As punishment, they cut off Erwin’s nose and top lip, cutting up his face and making an example of him to anyone who would think to do the same. He and Annette built the house on the bay and ran a successful shipping business. He hired John on as a caretaker for the house and grounds, at a time when work was hard to come by. Later on, John noticed that Erwin was obviously abusing his wife and son, but didn’t say anything for fear of losing his job. Lance’s father left town the day he graduated high school. Life went on as usual for the couple until the day Erwin was murdered. Here’s a rather lengthy quote, because the author says it much better than I can.
“They kept to themselves until a man by the name of Aaron Haff came to town. He just showed up one day - no one saw him arrive or how he got here - and he started asking a few questions around town. Asking about your grandfather. He stayed about a week, befriended Harold and Josie’s daughter actually, before he went up to your grandparent’s house one afternoon, walked in the front door, and shot Erwin through the head.”
John tells Lance that Haff died in prison without ever giving a reason for his crime, but that Annette lived. She is in a retirement home across town, and hadn’t spoken a word since that day.
I would be doing you, the reader, a major disservice if I gave any more of this wonderful tale away. I will give you this though: This is not the end. This is just the little more than half point.
What’s behind the door that’s stuck shut in the house?
What is up with the bay out back? What did Andy mean by “so many”?
Why did Aaron Hass murder Erwin?
Is Lance really seeing all these things or is he cracking up?
More mysteries are uncovered at the nursing home that lead Lance to dig even further into old family secrets.
Just remember this: Nothing is as it seems!
I am thrilled to have found this author, and have already picked out which one of his books I’ll be reading next. I have no doubt I will love it just as much as I did these last two.