Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Book Review: Let Him In by William Friend

 "They’re more alike than you and I ever were. They’re like two halves of one whole. They’re two people and one person at once."

Alfie is struggling to cope with his wife's tragic death when his twin daughters claim that there is an unknown man in their room. When the invisible intruder becomes their best friend, Alfie decides to seek the help of Julia, his dead wife's twin sister, who is also a practising psychiatrist. Julia is unable to decide if the imaginary friend of the kids, whom they name Black Mamba, is an attempt by the kids to cope with their mother's death, Alfie's attempt to mask his guilt, or an apparition formed from her own troubled past involving her twin sister and their occultist parents. 

Let Him In is the debut novel of William Friend, which mixes gothic horror with psychological family drama. I received an advanced copy of the book that will be released in early October, through Netgalley and the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, in exchange for honest feedback. Although the theme of the novel is familiar to me through numerous movies and novels with a similar pattern, the author masterfully builds a claustrophobic setting and tries to play with the reader's deepest fears. 

The novel explores the themes of loss, resultant grief, and attempts to cope with it. A recent death and how it affects the functioning of close family members form the narrative crux of it. The presence of two little children and the ordeals that they have to go through, add to the stake for the reader. The writer succeeds in never letting the reader decide the border between reality and imagination until the final page. The gothic setting of the mysterious and creepy Hart House, where the kids live with their father, adds to the horror element with a certain spine tingling suspense.

The novel is written in dual perspective, alternating between the first person narratives of Alfie and Julia. Though it slightly unsettled me in the first few chapters, where I was getting acquainted with the universe, it became enjoyable soon. It was even a relief towards the middle, when the suspense gets more intense and then a sudden shift in tone becomes a welcome relaxation. The writer very cleverly uses this technique towards the climax, when a crucial piece of information is skillfully hidden in plain sight, during one of the narrational shifts, and I realised it only after completing the book. It is also to experience such magic tricks from writers that we patiently read book after book. 

The greatest strength of the novel Let Him In by William Friend is the skillfully ambiguous narration that makes the reader struggle to place its genre until the climax. It is a suspense filled horror story about the psychology of personal loss that leaves scope for multiple interpretations.

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