Reviewed by Mac M.
“It was a dark and stormy night.” Now, don’t get me wrong; a dark and stormy night can be pretty frightening. With the crashing of thunder, and lightning strikes flashing through a house darkened by power outages, and candles flickering from the wind penetrating through window seals, well, things can get pretty spooky. And, if there’s a killer on the loose, escaped from an institution for the criminally insane, I might feel downright panicky. But all of these clichés don’t necessarily make for a well written novel or horror story.
The signs are usually there in the first few pages of a book; one you feel like you need to put down in favor of the Hemingway or Steinbeck that’s been waiting for you on your night-table, gathering dust. But, like that third piece of pecan pie you force down at Thanksgiving, the one you know will end in heartburn and that odd belt-loosening ritual, you go right ahead. You push past the nameless and vaguely described villain, clear only in the barely believable details identifying him as the killer, knowing that his veiled identity is necessary for the twist surely lurking in the final pages. You skim over the loosely constructed, if fatal, plight of the overly pure victim, knowing that some unseen, beneficent power will save the innocent from certain death, delivering her to a new life, even better than her old one. You ignore the self doubts and early missteps of the hero, waiting for his superhuman strength or otherworldly power to kick in. In the end, just like that extra piece of pecan pie leads inevitably to antacid, the book leads undeniably to all of these trite conclusions; and then you wonder why you bothered, why you wasted your time.
Deborah LeBlanc’s Water Witch hits each of these high notes, introducing her psycho-killer, Olm, in the first pages of the book as he begins a descent into madness and ritual sacrifice and murder. His thinking and actions are clearly those of a madman, one who is quickly decompensating into ever more disorganized and violent behavior. What’s truly amazing about Olm is that he is able to shut this crazy spigot off, turning back to such normal and pedestrian behavior that he is unidentifiable in a small town with only a few hundred inhabitants. True to the formula, LeBlanc reveals Olm’s identity only in the last few pages. There are few clues about the true identity of the villain and absolutely no attempts to foreshadow his identity until he slices through the last pages, accompanied by blood and tears and dead bodies.
As the book begins, Olm has captured two young children for a patched together, ancient Indian ritual sacrifice, one which will bestow upon him untold dark power. The two children face their certain death with wisdom and courage far beyond their years. Enter our hero, Dunny, a six fingered freak, eking out a desolate life in West Texas, a result of her extra digit’s paranormal power. Her sixth finger, you see, can locate lost or valuable things, literally pointing the way like a divining rod. Dunny travels to backwater Louisiana, a place where both her circus appendage and its power seem to fit right in, hoping to locate the two children before they meet their doom in Olm’s twisted vision quest. In the end, though typically reluctant and doubtful about herself, Dunny saves the day, just like I knew she would. And, from the survivors and other sideshow characters, she forms a new, eccentric nuclear family, and lives happily ever after.
Should you beware of this ‘dark and stormy night’ book? Well, it all depends on what you’re after. I know it sounds like I didn’t care much for Water Witch, and I suppose I didn’t really care all that much for it. The thing is, I have read worse books; I have seen weaker stories made into movies and aired on the Lifetime or SciFi Channel. So, for some folks, this will be a comfortable and safe read; it will fit like an old pair of jeans. The familiar formula, the expected twists and turns, the cutout characters, introduced with enough detail to be interesting but not too interesting, all combine for an undemanding read. Sure, there are better horror novels, better thrillers, and I can recommend a few authors who go beyond the formula to create complex, challenging characters and stories. But, if you’re looking for ‘a dark and stormy night,’ Water Witch fits the bill.
Mac M., aka blackdogbooks on Librarything, lives in the American Southwest and works in law enforcement.