There's no such thing as a happy family in John Saul's dark imagination. He made this chillingly clear in Suffer the Children and The Right Hand of Evil, and he deepens this impression in Nightshade, a perfectly macabre tale of a household ripped apart by malevolent forces.
Meet New Hampshire couple Bill and Joan Hapgood and their teenage son, Matt. They have a huge home, many friends, and the glow of Matt's glory as a high school football star. Life couldn't be sweeter, right? Wrong!
Trouble begins when Joan's mother, Emily, accidentally burns down her own house and moves in with the Hapgoods. Matt is terrified of his foul-tempered grandmother, who refers to him as "Joan's bastard." Emily's odd behavior reaches a fever pitch when she insists that the bedroom of her long-dead (and much-favored) elder daughter, Cynthia, be recreated, prom dress, dolls, and all. The household's normal warmth vanishes, "the sense of welcome and comfort was gone." Matt complains of strange, perverted dreams in which the staggeringly beautiful Cynthia visits him, leaving behind the pungent scent of her Nightshade perfume. Joan also feels the presence of her dead sister, and has painful flashbacks to a childhood best left forgotten. A murder and three disappearances befall the small town, Matt spirals into depression, and Joan loses her mind. Throw in child abuse, torture, and a wickedly irritable ghost, and we have one whopper of a nightmare. Nightshade contains gobs of gore, melodramatic (and occasionally bumbling) prose, and a deviant, twisted ending--John Saul's famous recipe for family disaster and reader delight. --Naomi Gesinger [via]