Book Review: Bayou Whispers by R.B. Wood

“A very rewarding read, full of the mysterious and mystical history of the bayou—both established and original to Wood’s creation—as well as naturally secretive characters and action aplenty.”

 

Bayou Whispers by R.B. Wood - coverR.B. Wood is a recent MFA graduate from Emerson College and writes speculative and dark thrillers. His work has appeared in volume six of Crystal Lake Publishing’s Shallow Waters anthology series, and also online via SickLit Magazine and HorrorAddicts.net, as well as in the award-winning anthology Offbeat: Nine Spins on Song (Wicked Ink Books, 2017).

The book opens with a prologue of sorts, set in Louisiana two months after Hurricane Katrina, the devastation of the terrible storm still evident for all to see on the night of Halloween. Here we meet the main characters of Wood’s novel, teenager Jeannine LaRue who has, figuratively (and, arguably, literally) been to hell and back, and police officer and army veteran Curtis Jones. Thanks to Jones and his partner’s quick thinking, they get Jeannine to a hospital where she has to make a sacrifice but, ultimately, keeps her life. Thus begins a lifelong friendship that spans the length of the book, and the beginning of a horrifying adventure. Chapter two opens in present day, with Jones leading a very different life, wanted for murder and on the run.

From here, Jones and Jeanine trade chapters as we gradually learn about the circumstances that led to the former police officer turning his back on law enforcement and how it connects with the traumatic childhood Jeanine suffered at the hands of her mother. This method of pacing the story proves very effective at keeping the reader invested in the fates of our main characters, and Wood provides just enough details to keep us on the end of the hook. The relationship between his two leads, the old cop and the orphaned girl with the mysterious family background, is depicted with great care, Jones assuming a father figure role in the early days, while Jeanine returns to her hometown to rescue him when she is a newly-qualified lawyer. The admiration between the two is tempered by the uncertainty and awkwardness caused by years apart. The scenes where they reunite and make amends to fight the greater evil are handled very well.

Speaking of the greater evil, this leads us to the supernatural element of the story. The troubled past of Jeanine and her mother’s family includes stories of voodooism and worshipping ancient deities who long to reclaim the Earth. Jeanine’s role in this makes for exciting reading but, also, the mix of crime with this horror gives the story a unique angle that makes for a captivating narrative. Jones and his former army buddies have indulged in certain criminal activities since he left the corrupt police force, and they have heard rumours of the sinister Papa Nightmare, a local crime boss with mysterious connections to the underworld, both criminal and demonic, who has more than a little part to play in Jeanine’s story. Added to this are elements of Judaistic folklore and a history of Faustian dealings, which may seem like a strange mix, but they all seem to work well together.

As the story races toward its grand finale, the many strands beginning to come together to reveal the true nature of the evil forces at play, and Jeanine’s role in her own destiny as well as that of all humans. The ending proves to be increasingly twisty and revelatory, with double crosses and double-double crosses as more secrets are uncovered and agendas are revealed. At times it could feel almost like a bucking bronco trying to throw the reader off of the narrative, which wasn’t aided by the deceitful nature of Papa Nightmare and the deity he serves, able to confound their enemies with visions of their worst fears, which may well prove to be untrue. This, along with the very human nature of not always revealing the whole truth, even to those we love the most, means the reader must be on their toes to follow the story all the way to its conclusion. That being said, it makes for a very rewarding read, full of the mysterious and mystical history of the bayou—both established and original to Wood’s creation—as well as naturally secretive characters and action aplenty.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
eBook: 199 (ps.)
Release Date: 29 April 2021

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