Monday, October 7, 2013

The Burning of Rachel Hayes by Doug Alleyn

First Sentence: A cold finger brushed Rachel’s throat, jolting her out of a dream.

Veterinarian David Westbrook, released after 2 years in prison, has rented a barn to rebuild his practice and his life. He hears a woman's screams and rescues her son who'd fallen in an old well. But he also discovers the remains of a woman, Rachel Hayes, who had died in a firestorm in the 1870's. But once her remains are found, fires and deaths begin.

Allyn starts us off with a dramatic prologue which clearly has a purpose and makes us want to know more. It establishes themes which run through the entire story.

The author has a wonderful voice and writes great dialogue…”One last question,” she said,” a medial one. Are you a good vet?” “I try to be. I was tops in my class at State. My patients bark at me sometimes, but they never write nasty letters.” “You have a strange sense of humor.” “Thank you.”

The characters are fully-dimensional. Each has a past they are trying to overcome and with objectives for their futures. They are real; they are alive and you feel their pain. You find yourself empathizing with Westbrook. You want to pull him back when he’s about to do something stupid and are very relieved when he doesn’t.

Even the four-legged creatures become very real to us. Allyn’s descriptions and understanding of the animals is wonderful. I shall caution that there are animals harmed in this book, but it was relevant to the plot and done with a purpose. The protagonist is a vet and a rescuer. It helps to keep that in mind.

The Burning of Rachel Hayes” is a gripping read with an underlying element of the Gothic and a bit of “something wicked this way comes” feel. It is not a typical ghost story. There is a paranormal element but one leaving you wondering whether it’s truly paranormal or corporal. It is filled with strong, diverse and interesting characters, both human and animal. I found myself so caught up in the story, parts of it stayed with me long after finishing the book. Although Mr. Allyn has written other books, he now concentrates on short stories, including the David Westbrook collection of “All Creatures Dark and Dangerous.”

THE BURNING OF RACHEL HAYES (Myst-Dr. David Westbrook-Michigan-Contemp) – VG+
Allyn, Doug
Five Star, 2004

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