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Review: Stillwell by Michael Phillip Cash

Stillwell CoverTitle: Stillwell: A Haunting in Long Island
Author: Michael Phillip Cash
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Publisher: Red Feather Publishing
Rating: 3 out of 5

Synopsis:

Paul Russo’s wife just died. While trying to get his family’s life back in order, Paul is being tormented by a demon who is holding his wife’s spirit hostage on the other side. His fate is intertwined with an old haunted mansion on the north shore of Long Island called Stillwell Manor. Paul must find clues dating back hundreds of years to set his wife’s soul free.

Review:

You should know this about me first: I scare quite easily.  I’m one of those people that you want to walk through your haunted house just so you can have promotional videos.  I only watch a horror movie if I know that everyone will be home for at least the next two weeks so that I won’t be alone.  Additionally, I try to rationalize scary stories to make them unreal, but sometimes that just doesn’t help.  The first scary novel I read was Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was eleven.  It gave me nightmares for about a month and I had to sleep with the lights on during that time.  My mom told me I wasn’t allowed to read them any more.  So let’s just say I was a little apprehensive when Elizabeth suggested that we read a scary story for the month of October.

Stillwell scared me within the prologue.  There.  I admitted it.   I had to stop reading it for three days just to get myself together.  As I continued reading, I found the Stillwell kept to the tried and true formula for human contact with spirits.  Rooms would get colder, a putrid smell would be unavoidable, kids would say they saw a ghost, and an old house would be a main backdrop.  Once I got the formula/rules, I was able to rationalize the story.  It lost some of the scare factor.

Here’s the thing, I understood some of the motives of the ghosts, but one of the things that one of them did I did not understand.  Why would you push someone down the stairs if you wanted help?  Why would you make someone have a vision of a gruesome murder if it had nothing to do with what you wanted?  This is where storytelling versus trying to scare me means more.  I need motives to match actions and vice versa.

The sections of the book I found to be most compelling dealt with Paul’s thoughts on the loss of his wife.  He is now in charge of taking care of three children, paying bills, making food, and ensuring that they get some sense of normalcy after witnessing their mother’s descent into death while battling brain cancer.  The story starts off a day after the funeral, so we never get to witness it.  Instead, we see Paul alone and full of sorrow which is understandable.  We see his kids trying to deal with death in their own way, be it lashing out or keeping all of their feelings inside.  Paul is under a tremendous amount of stress after losing his soulmate.  Add this stress to ghosts that inhabit a house you’re trying to sell and you have a real problem on your hands.

Overall, I think the concept of Stillwell is good; however, I think execution could have been a bit better.  It’s not enough to scare, but the story must still make sense.  Those are the ones that stay with you and make you afraid to go to the bathroom by yourself or close your eyes while you’re washing your hair.

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