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Book: “Episode Thirteen” by Craig DiLouie
Publishing Info: Redhook, January 2023
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: A ghost-hunting reality TV crew gain unprecedented access to an abandoned and supposedly haunted mansion, which promises a groundbreaking thirteenth episode, but as they uncover the secret history of the house, they learn that “reality” TV might be all too real — in Bram Stoker Award nominated author Craig DiLouie’s latest heart pounding novel of horror and psychological suspense.
Fade to Black is the newest hit ghost hunting reality TV show. It’s led by husband and wife team Matt and Claire Kirklin and features a dedicated crew of ghost-hunting experts.
Episode Thirteen takes them to Matt’s holy grail: the Paranormal Research Foundation. This crumbling, derelict mansion holds secrets and clues about the bizarre experiments that took place there in the 1970s. It’s also, undoubtedly, haunted, and Matt hopes to use their scientific techniques and high tech gear to prove it.
But, as the house begins to slowly reveal itself to them, proof of an afterlife might not be everything Matt dreamed of.
A story told in broken pieces, in tapes, journals, correspondence, and research files, this is the story of Episode Thirteen — and how everything went horribly wrong.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
Back in college, when I first had access to cable TV, I was profoundly fascinated by the ghost hunter reality shows that you could find here and there. I’m a person who is very much a Mulder who ‘wants to believe’ (I even have the sticker of that poster on my bedside water bottle), so for a bit I was very into the likes of “Ghost Hunters”, “Paranormal State”, and “Ghost Adventures”. It became pretty clear pretty quickly that they were all pretty silly and staged, but I still have a fondness for the concept of ghost hunting reality shows, goofy as they can be. So obviously when I read the description of “Episode Thirteen”, an epistolary novel about a reality show ghost hunting crew going into a notorious house and finding something terrifying, I really, really felt the need to give it a whirl. Do it for Jason and Grant, Kate!
This book is bursting with creativity, there is no denying that. You get a little bit of reality TV manipulative nonsense, you get some MK-Ultra-esque conspiracy shit, you get unnerving epistolary segments, it’s quite the mix and I thought that it came together pretty well. I liked that DiLouie thought outside of the box when it comes to a run of the mill haunted house/ghost hunters story, and I liked the small homages to classic tales like “The Haunting of Hill House”. It’s a strange brew but for the most part it works. I also really liked the overall ‘found footage’ structure of it, be it emails and text messages between members of the ghost hunting crew and family members or executives at the network, and I liked how they would sometimes be in direct contradiction of the ‘public’ archives like the website promotions. I also thought that DiLouie was pretty adept at writing out descriptions of what one would be seeing on camera and on the screen, and given that this can be a tricky thing to pull off I was very happy to see that it felt natural as well as descriptive. It read like footage from a television show or footage from behind the scenes, very visual and very easy to translate to the minds eye. And I also felt like we got to know most of our characters on the ghost hunting crew. Whether it’s true believer Matt, who needs to prove that there is, in fact, an afterlife, or his skeptical wife Claire who wants to support him but is deeply rooted in her physics background, or crew member Jessica who merely wants to break it big in the industry, I felt like I really understood who these people were, for better or for worse.
The one downside, at least for me, is that by the end we started stretching our genres out into something more metaphysical and downright trippy, and then it kind of lost control of itself. As the climax speeds up and our players start to descend into pure chaos as the final pages unfold, I started to lose the ability to really sense out what was happening, and got a bit muddled with the spiraling narrative. I definitely get the sense that it’s supposed to feel crumbling and out of control, but I think that for me it just got a little too fraught and unhinged. I understand that the goal is to feel the disorientation of it all, but it never came together for me as a reader in a way that felt taut. I’m not sure if that’s a personal taste thing or not.
But having said that, overall I found “Episode Thirteen” to be a solid take with a weird and creepy twist on a ghost hunt gone wrong.
Rating 7: Creepy and trippy, and a fun epistolary tale with some unique storytelling devices, “Episode Thirteen” is a solid new entry into the found materials genre.
“Episode Thirteen” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Fictional Books About Found Footage”.