The Vines - Christopher Rice

This is a quick, spooky read that mixes southern gothic with things that go bump in the night. The setting is Spring House, an antebellum mansion outside New Orleans with a pre-Civil War history laced with violence & blood. It burned to the ground in 1850 but was restored in the present after being purchased by the wealthy Chaisson family. 

As the story opens, Caitlin Chaisson is celebrating her birthday but receives an unwanted gift...witnessing her husband Troy & one of the party planners having a private celebration in the upstairs bathroom. It's the last straw for this fragile, insecure woman & she attempts suicide in the backyard gazebo. 

This sets off a chain of events that will threaten the lives of 3 people closest to her. 

 

Blake Henderson grew up with Caitlin but they've been estranged since he filled her in on Troy's extracurricular activities. He's still haunted by the murder of his lover 15 years ago & about to learn some hard truths. 

Willie Thomas has been the family's groundskeeper for most of his life & knows every tree & flower. He also knows there's something strange about the plant growth & hears whispers of what occurred there during the time of slavery. 

Nova is his daughter & a student at LSU. During research on Spring House, she uncovered some odd stories passed down by slaves after the plantation was destroyed. 

 

Caitlin's failed suicide awakens a terrible evil lurking underground for over 100 years, waiting for a chance to exact revenge. Blake, Wille & Nova band together in an effort to understand the deadly force & avoid being added to the rising body count. 

This is a supernatural thriller that supports Faulkner's theory that the past is never past. Louisiana is the perfect setting for a dark, unsettling tale that is a horror story on the surface but also a commentary on weightier issues such as forgiveness & the state of your soul.

The author does a good job of creating an atmospheric read. Vivid descriptions of the terror unleashed in the present are mixed with unspeakable conditions endured by slaves in the past. It's easy to conjure the lush vegetation, overhead canopies of trees & vines, the unseen critters that scuttle in the dark. All this lends a pervasive sense of menace you're sure you could catch sight of if you just turn the pages fast enough. 

The only false note for me was the apparent ease with which characters accepted some of the explanations for what was happening. Maybe they were a little more open minded since they grew up there. I think my reaction would have been a series of "WTF?" 's quickly followed by a seat on the next bus out of town. 

Ultimately, those left standing are changed forever. Not just by what they've seen but because they're forced to take a hard look inward & accept responsibility  for their actions. 

The ending leaves the door open for a sequel. One of them has been saddled with a "gift" & it might be interesting to see what they do with it. In the meantime, I'll be a little nicer to my house plants.