Not long ago I read the novella My Daylight Monsters by Sarah Dalton and was very impressed, so when Mary Hades, the first novel in the series was available, I jumped at the chance to read it. I don’t think it’s as good as the novella, but it still has its fair share of thrills and chills.
The novel starts after Mary was released from the asylum. Her parents decide that a holiday at a campsite on the moors of North Hampshire will be a welcome relief. (Didn’t they read The Hound of the Baskervilles, or Wuthering Heights?) The family has hardly unpacked before a ten-year-old boy jumps to his death. Then, at the carnival Mary, with her best friend, Lacey, a ghost, in tow, meets a young carny, and asks him to ride the Ferris wheel with her. After his shift, they do, but they are almost killed when the ride malfunctions, and the operator dies. Mary and Lacey do some investigating, and discover that the Five Moors campsite is a mecca for ghost-chasers, as mysterious deaths have been occurring with alarming frequency. The first being a little girl named Amy, who appears hell-bent on revenge. Her appearances are the scariest moments in the novel, and Ms. Dalton handles them very well.
Mary and lacey have to put Amy to rest, and they gather a rather too-convenient group of ghost-busters, with Seth, the carny who is a sensitive yet masculine dude, a gay teen Goth couple, and a middle aged-guy named Igor, who runs a ghost-tour, and seems to be an amateur para-psychologist to boot. The downtimes in the story, where Mary and the Goths and Seth are palling around are the weakest ones in the boor for me. Heaven knows that you can’t slavishly stick to the main story-line, but the back-ground stuff never really grabbed me. It showed the regular life that Mary is missing, but needed to be a bit more interesting.
When Mary is the focus, the novel is at its best. The small romantic sub-plot between Mary and Seth never really takes off, and is far less interesting the inter-play between Mary and Lacey. The fact that Lacey is a ghost is never made to be a joke, and Ms. Dalton shines in exploring the tension and drama between the two teens. Some of the most poignant scenes in the book are between this pair, and their relationship is the most interesting in the novel. Seth takes up a chunk of the book, but never comes off as more than a clichéd dream hunk. (A carny? Really?)
Near the end of the story the group forms a plan to put Amy to rest, and the scenes that concentrate upon Amy and Mary are among the best in the book. Ms. Dalton has a real flair for horror, and her descriptions of Amy are wonderfully creepy. The supernatural horror is made more potent with the brutality of the crime that created the ghost, the murder of a little girl.
There are a few times in the book where I got the feeling that Ms. Dalton was holding back a bit, and I for one would love to see what she could accomplish if she really let it rip. When she locks in on a scene, like the one where Lacey and Amy face off, the sparks fly like crazy. Therefore, I am looking forward to the next Mary Hades.