The Sick House by Ambrose Ibsen

The Ulrich Files, #1

Some Places Should Stay Abandoned...
Dr. Siegfried Klein has vanished on a mysterious pilgrimage to an abandoned infirmary in the ghost-town of Moonville. The locals in the surrounding areas are tight-lipped, hostile to outsiders. Local legend has it that the old Sick House is packed with spirits, none of them friendly, and that to set foot in it is to enter Hell itself.

Enter Harlan Ulrich, private investigator and skeptic.

Traveling to the site, the detective begins the long process of separating truth from grisly local myth, and during his investigation stumbles upon certain frightful evidence that tries his nerve. He wants to find the doctor in one piece and weathers the hostilities of the locals even as their stories keep him up at night. But the longer he spends in the ghost town of Moonville, the more he feels the influence of something sinister in the shuttered infirmary.

When finally the truth is revealed and the infirmary's sordid past comes to light, will Ulrich manage to escape with his life? Join him as he braves the myth-shadowed unknown and seeks out the missing doctor in The Sick House, a full-length novel of paranormal suspense and horror.

"Ulrich preferred to pass his time reading, drinking coffee or taking in films. More often than not, his cases were mere interruptions to his life's passions - necessary evils he had to face in order to keep the money flowing."

At first I thought this would be a horror novel (I mean, look at the cover and title...), but it becomes clear quick that it's a dark mystery/thriller where an unconventionally ill-suited detective takes on a creepy job before he realizes its creepy. If he had realized it was creepy in advance - trust me, this detective would have stayed clear.

I absolutely heart the detective, Ulrich. He's definitely cowardly and doesn't sail with the highest self-esteem. He doesn't like to work hard and long but he coasts by with a meager rep. He needs the inevitable money, and self-respect does still factor in - so when he takes a job he at first assumes will be easy, it's just funny. I loved his awkward style but also the fun stuff about him being a snob about coffee and Sinatra. The man has style but he's also an oddball character who doesn't fit the PI gig as it's usually told in traditional novels and movies - I'd imagine this was more like a private investigator you'd find in real life if you were unlucky with your hiring choice.

The story is rich with eerie atmosphere and its clear the author focuses most of the energy on that. Take an insane asylum that's been shut down, and there's already creepy ambience as a natural given, but you can toss in paranormals and suspenseful pauses and weird lights and small narrow-minded towns, and the chills get heavier.

The writing style is well-done with a heavy complement on crafting characters and bringing them to life - everything from the downward waitress to the seedy motel clerk.

The ambience is brilliantly creepy at the right moments with that thick sense of dread, but sometimes the pacing stumbles. Usually during tense scenes I'm used to shorter, choppier paragraphs or sentences to speed up the heartbeat with the pacing, but Ibsen preferred longer paragraphs and more words to illustrate the horror of the moment - after awhile this distracted me. It works beautifully well with lyrical prose but not so much when it's for drawn out scenes, and this book is mainly filled with drawn out scenes once Ulrich reaches town.

Pacing stumbles aside, I'd recommend this one for mystery fans, especially those who like darker stuff with paranormal bends. Urlrich is a delightfully unique detective who reminds me of the reluctant Scooby Doo/Shaggy pair-up who are only facing creepy mysteries by absolute force, not because they seek them out in the first place.

I will be checking out the second to check out more of the oddball detective's adventures. The story for this one wasn't overly layered (small town, creepy asylum), but the mystery did end on a turn-around quirk that filled in the holes.