Gypsies have always fascinated many, and apparently continue to do so, as is evident by the steady supply of written and filmed stories surrounding them. From the ominous warnings uttered by Bela Lugosi at the beginning of the Wolf Man, to King’s cinematic flop ‘Thinner’, which took a somewhat comical over the top approach to the traditional curses, some rules – as with vampires, werewolves, etc. – remain consistent. Deborah LeBlanc, in her second novel, opens Grave Intent with a desperate mother cradling her young baby, mindfully resentful toward her husband, who is about to bestow upon their daughter an act she feels is unjust and unneeded. Forced to participate in the hideous ritual, the novel then charges up with modern-day events, introducing the reader to the main characters, and from there propelling toward relentless horror, strange occurrences, and explorations of the all too common human trait: greed, and it’s eventual result: revenge.
Characters are believable and to be cared about on multiple levels, with dialogue being rich and convincing, particularly when showcasing the southern culture. The plot itself works, fitting like a comfortable and slightly familiar shoe. Events were paced quickly, not pausing overly much, keeping the book open in my hands. There were enough creepy moments to signal this is rightfully a horror novel, but nothing blood-curdling. (Then again, getting the blood-curdling effect from horror books can be hard once you’ve read enough of them. The old jaded effect, ya know).
Suspense is backed with ample build-up and well-sketched tension, not feeling out of place. It always helps that it’s easy to relate to the characters when something does happen (or almost does). Sadly, suspense and horror aren’t there from the start, having the reader needing to exert a bit of patience to get there. There are some aspects of the novel that are slightly melodramatic and overdone, as well as the ‘hauntings’ themselves – slightly over-the-top with the aftertaste of Kraft. Most chapters end with cliffhangers, which is effective with R.L. Stine and children/teen novels, but can grow tiresome and predictable with the adult crowd after so many years of seeing it.
Overall nothing too memorable – you won’t remember plot details a year from now – but it’s a good way to pass the time, especially for those who enjoy the classic gypsy curse type atmosphere. LeBlanc continues to please with her writing, earning her title as a Bram Stoker nominee. I’m eager to give her next book a shot.