American Gothic by Robert Bloch

(No Series)
Horror, Suspense

Dr. G. Gordon Gregg is one of Chicago's foremost citizens, the owner of the Castle, a gothic-style mansion in the heart of 19th century suburban Chicago that doubles as a pharmacy and hotel.

But Dr. Gregg hides a dark secret, for inside its walls the Castle is a maze of secret rooms, hidden passages, torture chambers, dissection labs, gas chambers, and crematoriums. The operator of a lucrative sweetheart scam, Gregg makes tens of thousands of dollars wooing women, transferring their assets to himself, and making them "disappear," along with a few troublesome wives and former business partners.

Dr. Gregg is no longer working undetected, however, for a spunky newspaper reporter named Crystal is hot on his trail. Crystal is angry that Gregg is getting away with wholesale fraud and murder, and also that his machinations have cost her fiancé his job with the latest victim's insurance company.

Now, with the help of her editor Charlie Hogan and a local police detective, Crystal is going undercover inside the Castle to ferret out Gregg's secret.

I try to collect Bloch books when I can. If you don't already know, he's best known for writing the bestselling novel, Psycho, later turned into the unforgettable movie by Hitchcock. A lot of his work is very good, as his writing style is simple to read but strangely creative at the same time.

American Gothic is nowhere as fortunate in the talent department as Psycho was, or actually as decent as his other works. Based on the H.H. Holmes murders in the turn of the century Chicago, the novel stays close to the original story source, but never proves terribly interesting. The heroine is a tough but naive and unpredictable character who ends up stumbling along to find the doctor's hideous secrets. She's interesting in a way, but not someone you latch onto too much. Gregg is a ... well, unique villain, but again not overly intriguing.

The main downfall of the story is not that it's not readable - it certainly is - but that the pacing is snail slow and seems to drag on and on. It would have been much better suited as a shorter story, or else where more action (even if invented) took place. His writing style is as enjoyable as ever, and Bloch fans should still read this one if they run into it. Suspense is there in moderate doses, but not with enough frequency to save this book from the to-be-traded pile.

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