Gothic Revival, by Michael Mullin, is a thriller centered on four old friends who are invited to a secluded villa on a lake by the fifth friend, Eric Asher.
The friends haven’t seen each other in 20 years, and Eric ostensibly wants to rekindle their friendship from grad school, where they all studied creative writing. Once there, however, Eric says he wants each of them to write a ghost story—just like the famous gathering of Victorian friends that produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the 1800s.
But Eric has other, darker, more twisted plans for the group, and throughout the weekend, he systematically lies to them, manipulates and betrays them.
Through slow-moving and sometimes rambling internal monologues, the reader learns about the marital tension between Anna and Chris, Fiona’s insecurity and her clairvoyance, and Lauren’s intent to prove her husband’s infidelity. But Mullin shows little of Eric’s sociopathic behavior that will have such tragic consequences, giving the characters no chance to become aware and save themselves.
Even if the characters remain clueless, readers should have some inkling of what is coming in order to create page-turning tension. Yet there’s almost no hint of the epic betrayal ahead in the first 140 pages. In fact, there’s far more time devoted to the plots of the characters’ ghost stories, rather than the story that should be building around the friends.
The last third of the book moves quickly and grippingly as Eric’s horrifying plan is revealed and acted on. These events could have provided the kind of satisfaction that genre readers seek, but because there’s little buildup to that finish, the ending’s impact is far weaker than it could have been.
Overall, revision with an eye to ratcheting up the tension throughout would greatly increase this novel’s appeal.