by Robert Marasco
An unlikely pairing of smoldering dread and greased lightning, Burnt Offerings tells the tale of a married couple who happen upon a great deal for a summer home getaway, their young boy, the father’s aging aunt, and the few weeks they all spend together at the summer house to escape the pressures of city life.
There’s a catch. While the vacationing couple rents the house for the summer at a ridiculously low rate they are obliged to care for the owner’s mother, a shut-in living in the home, by bringing her a prescribed meal three times a day whilst the owners leave for the season. They assure the couple the old woman will be no trouble and will likely not even be seen. After some hemming and hawing, they agree and move in.
Things start out normally enough, but soon there is an incident at the pool where the father, Ben, loses control while roughhousing with his boy, scaring the boy badly and injuring himself in the process. Something in the house is beginning to work on their emotions. Ben’s wife Marian is becoming distant, and the elderly lady they’re supposed to be caring for has yet to show herself…
This book succeeds wonderfully in an area where competitors for this specific combination are few, as it slowly builds terror while rocketing you through a story. If it sounds to you like those two are incompatible, many would agree, pretty much by definition. So it’s difficult to say why this book works so well here. But it does, and listing possible reasons would reveal points it’s better not to know until the proper time.
The book comes with a pedigree as well. It appears on Centipede’s top 100 horror novels of all time at #41, and on Stephen Jones’ top 100 list at #71.
It’s solid, fast, scary and hypnotizing, and if you’re able to tear yourself away from it congratulations, you win.