A long, long time ago I read a short story that stuck with me (no pun intended) titled SMOOTHPICKS. That story was published in Deathrealm Magazine, and the author was a lady named Elizabeth Massie. I didn’t know Beth at the time, but I’d heard of her. I’d seen her work in The Horror Show, and seen her name on the upcoming anthology contributor’s lists. Finally, when I got off my duff and drove with my buddy John B. Rosenman to NECON for the first time, I met the lady herself.
Deception is the name of the game, folks. Beth is one of the sweetest, most cheerful and supporting friends I’ve ever had. She can be brutally honest, don’t get me wrong, and she’s not afraid (or even hesitatant) to speak her mind, but work with me here. I meet Beth at NECON. At the time she taught seventh grade, I believe…molding young minds. Soon after that I read more of her stories. “Hooked on Buzzer,” for example, and “Abed,” which will soon be a short film directed by none other than Tom Savini. The image of the woman I’d met, and the powerful, no-holds-barred prose I as reading did not align properly in my mind.
Since then, I’ve come to realize that there is a wicked grin just below the surface, that people - being books of blood, and all that - can’t be judged by their cover, no matter how attractive and harmless they appear at first glance. When Beth’s first novel, SINEATER, came out, I picked up my copy — again — at NECON. Her agent had gotten UK copies flown in, or something like that. In any case, I got a very early copy, and I read it very quickly. It was creepy, introduced elements that I loved - the old south, warped religion - and scared the crap out of me.
I have just had the pleasure of reading Beth’s recent novel HOMEPLACE, and it reminded me of all those years, and stories. The voice is distinct and southern. The location is an isolated little town called Adams, and an even more isolated farm called Homeplace. Our protagonist, Charlene, has come back to claim the old place as a sort of artist’s retreat in an attempt to jump start her painting career and revitalize her life.
Her memories of the place aren’t pleasant ones, and right from the start, the present lives up to the darkness promised by the past. Homeplace is dilapidated, filthy, lacks proper appliances, and - by the way - seems to be haunted.
Throughout this novel, the thing that is driven home is what a different world it is out in the middle of nowhere, cut off from cities, officials, and the world. People think and act differently. Things that would not matter to a city dweller are of great importance, and things that would matter in the city bring dull stares.
As Charlene delves into the secrets of her family, and their ancestral home, those around her warn her away. The old woman who visits the Alexander graveyard to keep it clean, the old men of the village, none have a good word for Homeplace, or the family that inhabited it. The rumors are dark, and ugly - the involve a locked building called “The Children’s House” and an old well covered over and all but forgotten. They involve a diary filled with the horrors of a woman’s past, and the rumors of life beyond the grave.
Animals go crazy. People die. Charlene finds herself in a war with her past, her ancestors, her neighbors, and possibly falling in love with her new friend Andrew, a lawyer who has also returned to his roots in Adams, not to paint, but to write a novel. He practices law on the side, but - though not to the extent that Charlene is - he is treated as an outsider. Someone who doesn’t know how things are.
He finds out, as does Charlene, and the ending will both chill and surprise you. This is a wonderful southern Gothic thriller with all the necessary ingredients to entertain readers and send shivers dancing up and down their spines. Highly recommended.