This novel is a particular favourite of mine. I’ve had it in my collection since the early eighties and enjoy reading it today as much as I did when I first bought it. Most of the action is set in New York in a Broadway theatre. The main character Nate Dysart is lucky enough to be handed a fortune when his father passes away. It is luckier than you might think as he and his father did not get on. This was mostly down to Nate’s dad who was something of a tyrant.
Throughout the book there are passages of back story but this is skilfully done by the author. These passages are integral to what goes on in the ensuing pages. They show why Nate Dysart is a driven man to succeed in his chosen profession which is as a theatre director. He is constantly trying to prove his father wrong who repeatedly told him he was a failure and would never succeed as a theatre director.
Out of the blue Nate discovers a vacant plot in an area of prime real estate in the middle of New York. Not believing his luck he buys the plot and starts making plans to build a theatre there. As he does so he is rather perplexed as to why such a prime location has been left empty for so long and why the sale price is so low. However, he is so keen to make his dream a reality that he dismisses this thought from his mind and goes ahead with the building of the theatre.
Having assembled his cast Nate gets down to the important business of rehearsals for the play he is putting on. However, right from the start there are problems. At first these are no more than teething concerns but soon more serious obstacles start to place themselves in the way of Nate’s production.
It soon turns out there is something supernatural going on. Sixty years before a fire broke out at the theatre which had been located on the same plot of land as Nate’s theatre. A child performer had died in this fire which occurred after a performance. This was a little girl with dark hair named Bonnie Jackson. Her ghost comes back to haunt this new theatre searching for a measure of revenge for what happened to her. She is also searching for her father and believes he is Nate. Anyone who gets in the way of her being together again with her ‘father’ places themselves in danger at the hands of this mysterious girl.
There are many tragedies which happen around the theatre and many other unexplained mishaps. At times they make Nate doubt his sanity especially when he keeps hearing a little girl’s voice. However, it soon transpires that the state of his mind is the least of his troubles as he fights to save his production from disaster. Soon enough even this strong consideration is low down on his list of priorities. His survival and the others close to him are suddenly far more important to him.
This is a wonderful horror novel. As I say I first read it in the early eighties and I still love it all these many years later. It is packed full of suspense from first page to last. The reader cannot help but turning the page to find out what happens next. It also gives an insight into theatre life and the strange superstitions which are so important to the actors as well as the production crew.
Throughout the novel I found myself living through Nate’s ups and downs as he tried to achieve his life’s ambition: to put on a Broadway production. There is a love interest throughout the novel with Nate falling for the leading lady in his production Adrian St. John. At one point he thinks he has everything: directing a broadway production with a terrific cast and in a strong relationship with a beautiful woman, but it is precisely as this moment of great personal joy is reached that circumstances beyond his control threaten to derail him from his chosen path.
I have many Clare McNally novels in my collection and I love all of them but I guess you could say this novel was my first love as I believe it was the one I read first. I’ve always admired Clare’s simple approach to storytelling which is very pleasurable to read. She does not get bogged down with long, complex words which only help in slowing the story down. She gets right into the meat of the action straight away, giving a brief flavour of each character’s personal life before ploughing on with the horrifying sequences in the story which, let’s face it, is what all of us horror enthusiasts are really interested in. However, the descriptions she gives of each character serves a useful purpose: it draws us all in as readers into the lives of each character and makes us worry over what might happen to them when Bonnie really settles down to her work.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone out there who is looking for a suspenseful tale which will curdle their blood and leave them wanting more. That’s certainly what happened to me after reading this book as a teenager. I couldn’t get my hands on enough Clare McNally novels to satisfy my thirst for heart-stopping action. I am sure once you read this novel you will feel the same way.
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