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Tower Hill / Sarah Pinborough

Leisure Books / July 2008
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

By this time in our adult lives, we know of at least one certainty when it comes to traveling: Stay away from small Maine towns. We’ve been there, and we know that bad things happen in these seemingly idyllic places. For some inexplicable reason, evil – in all its forms – seems to gravitate to the Pine Tree State like white on rice. Yet despite our familiarity with the inevitable unpleasantness that ensues within moments of crossing over the New Hampshire border, horror writers insist on taking us back there. One has to wonder then why UK scribe Sarah Pinborough (Breeding Ground, The Taken) chose Maine for her latest terror tome, Tower Hill. Sure, she’s in good company; Sarah Langan took us there in The Keeper, Nate Kenyon in Bloodstone, Jack Ketchum in Off Season and again in Offspring, Dean Koontz in Night Chills, even TV’s Dark Shadows was set in the fictional coastal town of Collinsport. Of course, no one has made Maine more a horror cliché than Stephen King, with Castle Rock, Derry, Little Tall Island, and Jerusalem’s Lot all part of the master dark scribe’s fictional topography.

Geographical echoes aside, Tower Hill is a solid tale steeped in the grand old horror theme of Good versus Evil. Set in the fictional college town of its title, Pinborough’s fifth novel revisits the classic good town-gone-bad trope. As freshmen Liz Clapton , Steve Wharton, and Angela Wright settle in to life at the small seaside college, two newcomers arrive — the charismatic Father O’Brien and the handsome Dr. Kenyon. It’s made clear to the reader from the novel’s outset that neither of the men are who they portray themselves to be, and soon the town is knee-deep in a diabolical plot dating back to Biblical times that involves forbidden fruits, the descendents of Adam and Eve, and an actual limb from the tree of life. It’s all a bit far-reaching, with the back story veering dangerously close at times to Da Vinci Code territory. Still, Pinborough is engaging enough a writer to pull it all together in the end, with an ending reminiscent of Village of the Dammed meets Needful Things.

Pinborough excels when she’s painting her portrait of small-town New England, with just enough description to give the reader a five-sense experience within the story’s setting. She populates Tower Hill with engaging enough denizens, from Mabel, the kindly bakery owner, and Sheriff James Russell, the town’s protective lawman, to Louis Eccles, the sheriff’s deputy, and Al Shtenko, the town’s recovering drunk. Her only misstep is Shtenko’s pint-sized pocket genie, whose guardian angel-like presence breaks an otherwise ominous mood whenever she appears. Pinborough’s college crowd is effective, if a bit generic, with the heroine suffering and recovering from a crisis of faith just in the nick of time and her attraction to the rebel-turned-good guy both coming off a bit rote and routine. The college itself, despite being the physical core of the town, is underused here, with only one or two supporting characters and very little action surrounding the setting itself. It’s a missed opportunity that the reader realizes in one of the book’s more effective and genuinely creepy moments when one of the college students gores herself out on the cliffs.

Tower Hill culminates in a spectacular showdown between God and the devil himself, as the spellbound townsfolk and a ragtag group of their would-be saviors converge upon the old church. Unlikely heroes emerge, several victims are claimed, and yet another fictional Maine town lays claim to being a place where evil once dwelt. The reader is left with the sense that they’ve visited Tower Hill before, and, likely, they have. Still, it’s a satisfying enough detour on the way to the now reliable Pinborough’s next blood-soaked destination.

Purchase Tower Hill by Sarah Pinborough.

Posted on Monday, December 29, 2008 at 08:02AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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