Rating: 4.5 out of 5
It’s a great feeling when you come across an idea you haven’t seen before, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve all read stories of haunted houses, haunted cars, even haunted people…but a haunted ebook? I mean, think about it for a second—even the term didn’t exist ten years or so ago.
Which makes the appropriately-titled The Haunted E-Book, written by J.L. Bryan of Jenny Pox fame, the first of its kind. This is a primacy that all writers yearn for but very few achieve.
On to the story.
Dee is a librarian in rural Georgia, a broken woman stuck in a place she doesn’t want to be simply because she wants to be close to the grave of her deceased friend Lilah. She spends her time reading her Kindle while trying to forget the fact her life’s gone nowhere in a hurry. Her loser townie boyfriend treats her like she isn’t there, which in fact reflects Dee’s view of herself. She’s a shell of a woman, a ghost wafting through the real world, hardly ever seen.
Strange things begin happening right away, when she downloads a book titled—yup—The Haunted E-Book. The book takes over her entire library of digital books, even inserting itself into other stories when she tries to read something different.
And this is where things get very, very interesting, because what we have here is a story within a story…within a story. Dee reads about Madison, who’s reading about Parker, who’s reading about Elaine. And in each incarnation, the person they’re reading about is reading a book called the same thing, only with the individual story being different. It sounds confusing, like looking into two mirrors at the same time and seeing the same image projected over and over again into infinity, but in fact, with the way Bryan constructed the story, it’s quite easy to follow.
The book follows the same pattern with every reader—so-and-so begins to be haunted by a mysterious, shadowy figure with letters stamped on his flesh, and who carries an iron composite stick with which he kills his victims. And how do you fall victim to this sadistic ghost?
Why, you stop reading.
Dee is thrust into the lives of the people she reads about, and her life at home falls apart. Then, following a familiar pattern with tales of hauntings, she is sent on a mission to discover the history behind the book, actually meets a few of the characters she’s read about (who turn out to be people just as real as her), and begins a daring chase in hopes of putting an end to the bad guy once and for all. In a way, it’s the story of one woman coming to grips with who she is, realizing her worth to both herself and the ones who loved her. And since this is horror, this epiphany comes when her life hangs precariously by a thread.
While the last third of The Haunted E-Book does follow a familiar pattern, the hows and whys of the plot make it refreshing. The evil presence behind the haunting is sinister in a subversive way, a “man” whose every action is made out of love—or at least his own twisted definition of it. He’s creepy and evocative of horror tales past, and his backstory, yet another book-within-a-book, is fascinating, as is the description of how he comes to haunt the books in the first place.
In all, I can heartily recommend The Haunted E-Book to anyone who enjoys reading an original, inventive horror yarn, complete with dismemberment, terror, and visceral thrills. It’s a hellride, the journey of one woman who wishes to be reborn while experiencing the most dreadful events of her lifetime. It will chew you up and spit you out, and by the time you read the final page, you’ll be left wondering if the words The End are truthful…or if it’s yet another vehicle of malevolence to lull us into a false sense of security.
Purchase The Haunted E-Book in, ahem, ebook format at the following retailers: