First published as a six-part serial novel (in a similar fashion to Stephen King’s ‘The Green Mile’ (1996)) beginning December 1996 and concluding June 1997, US author John Saul’s tale ‘The Blackstone Chronicles’ was only later published as a single novel in February of 1998. 

DLS Synopsis:
On the very top of the hill that overlooks the affluent town of Blackstone in New England, the Blackstone Asylum has cast a foreboding shadow since the 1890’s.  Since its closure, the asylum has been left empty and abandoned, with nothing but the chill of the wind going through its silent corridors.

However, the wealthy people of Blackstone have plans for the empty asylum.  Once the giant stone building has been demolished, a brand new commercial shopping mall is proposed for the land where the asylum currently rests.  The contracts have been drawn up and signed, and the work is now ready to commence.

But down in the town of Blackstone, strange things are happening to certain townspeople.  Oddly symbolic gifts are appearing for selective people about the town.  And with the mysterious gifts comes a link to the past.  Something that connects the receiver of the strange item with the asylum.  Something that uncovers a past that has been long forgotten by most.

As each present is found by the intended receiver, tragedy falls upon them and their unsuspecting family.  From suicide to fatal accidents, where a gift has been left, a curse follows in its wake.  And it all comes back to one thing.  The connections all lead to one place.  The Blackstone Asylum. 

The editor of the local rag, Oliver Metcalf, is beginning to connect the dots.  The stories from around Blackstone are gradually linking together.  Their connections with the asylum revealing themselves to him.  But his past also has strong ties with the asylum.  His father was the doctor who ran the mental institution.  And Oliver himself had once grown up within the asylum’s grounds.

Oliver Metcalf’s suspicions are about to be proved horrifyingly correct.  It all leads back to the asylum.  And within the silent stone walls of the foreboding building, a dark figure walks the empty corridors...plotting...

The sins of the fathers are about to be paid for...

DLS Review:
Split into six individual stories that each tie in a particular family from Blackstone with the asylum, the book still retains a very segmented structure, even with the stories ultimately slotting together to form one complete story.

The short tales operate with an obvious swiftness to their pace in order to get the individual stories down in just shy of one hundred pages each.  Because of this, the characterisation is often missing any continual development outside of the early establishing of the families and their connections to the asylum.  For such a character dependent storyline this is a bit of a shame.  The reasons behind it are obvious, but the final impact it has on the story as one complete novel is nevertheless quite detrimental.

Disappointing characterisation aside, Saul has brought together an entertaining and thoroughly compelling read.  Having the novel constructed from six separate (but still connected) stories makes for a tale that is regularly building towards yet another important crescendo.  It’s certainly one way to keep the pace and the energy going and avoid any unwanted sagging.  And to be honest, it works particularly well.

Our principal antagonist begins life as a curiously vague and altogether mysterious character.  At first, all we really see of him is brief snippets of movement from within the abandoned asylum.  The dark figure seems to lurk in the shadows, plotting the next elaborate death.  Only as the novel (as a whole) progresses much further into the unfolding storyline does our antagonist slowly reveal more of himself.

Unfortunately, Saul goes just a tad too far too early when he reveals the identity of the dark figure in the asylum.  Way before the finale is even begun, too much has been revealed to the reader, leaving the run-up to the ending lacking in impact and suspense.

That said, Saul does still pull off a relatively engaging finale.  Much of the storyline is wrapped up quite snugly, with families and their respective histories in Blackstone drawing to a pivotal finale.  However, Saul leaves a handful of questions somewhat unresolved, which results in a slight niggling annoyance at the very end of the tale.

All in all the tale is an ‘easy-to-get-into’ read, with plenty of horror thrills-and-spills running the storyline up to the next miniature climax.  The general characterisation and ultimate finale are quite disappointing in their weakness, but as a whole, the novel is still an enjoyable and engaging read from start to finish.

The tale was later adapted into a graphic novel series in 2012 as well as a computer game that was released in 1998 that formed as a further instalment into the storyline.

The novel lasts for a total of 544 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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