Joyce Manning lives a lonely life in Chicago. She’s an old-fashioned girl in many ways and she doesn’t have many friends. She doesn’t own a computer or a cell phone. The one man she’s interested in isn’t particularly interested in women. When the unthinkable happens and she’s assaulted in her own apartment, she desperately wants out. So when she’s offered a fresh start in small town in rural New York, she jumps at the chance.
Following the incident in her apartment, Joyce receives a letter from the executor of the estate of an aunt she didn’t know she had. Her aunt has recently passed away and left Joyce a sizable inheritance, including an old house in New York. The caveat: if she wants to claim her inheritance, she must live in the house for the next two years. Joyce quickly makes her decision and hops on a bus to the small town of Shelby.
Upon her arrival, she finds a house unlike anything she expected. A house called ‘Combs. A house stuck between old and new. A house covered with gargoyles and ancient history. A house full of secrets, and a town that’s helping to keep them. She soon finds herself caught up in the attentions of two different men, with different reasons to love and suspect them both. What’s really going on at ‘Combs? And who should she trust?
Secrets in Stone is the second self-published novel by Rebecca Engel (second that I could find anyway). I picked it up randomly on Smashwords because it caught my eye one day. That and I don’t mind a little gothic horror now and again.
Some of you who are more intimately familiar with MojoFiction know that during my first foray into self-publishing I enjoyed the pleasure of stepping into every pitfall that everyone tells you to avoid. While I eventually got it all cleaned up, I still embarrassingly proved the negative point people make about self-published authors. Thankfully, Rebecca Engel DID NOT have this problem. Secrets in Stone is well-written, well-edited, and even has an excellent cover image that marries perfectly to the material. Like any good mystery, she paces the story by giving the reader just enough hints to build up the suspense and keep them turning the page to find out how it’s all going to shake out. And it does get a little brutal by the end.
In building the mystery, however, the author tempts the reader with several threads about the house that don’t play out. I would have liked to see those fleshed out. The author spends a lot of time on the back and forth relationship between the protagonist and the two men she’s dating, which, while important to the story, begins to feel a little forced, especially when she starts building the mystery more fully, only to quickly transition away and back to scenes between the characters that feel like they been played out before.
But, you know, that’s not a huge complaint. Whenever I pick up a novel from the world of self-publishing, I hope they’ll be like this. Professionally put-together works by an emerging author – or at least someone who appears to really enjoy what they’re doing. The current price on Smashwords is more than fair, and you get yourself a nice beach read featuring a little murder and mayhem.
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