The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste

Jan 7, 2024
The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste HORROR BOOK REVIEW .jpg

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste is a ghost story and a damn entertaining one at that.

From Bram Stoker Award-winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a chilling novel about three childhood friends who miraculously survive the night everyone in their suburban hometown turned into ghosts–perfect for fans of Yellowjackets.

Book review by Rebecca Rowland

Twenty years ago, Talitha Velkwood and her two neighbourhood friends, Brett and Grace, escaped a phenomenon that had the tabloids fascinated and the paranormal investigators stumped: all of the other residents on their street of eight houses ghosted—literally. The physical buildings remained but became enshrined in a boundary that no one could cross. Two decades have passed, and Talitha herself has turned into a ghost of another sort: now forty, she wanders aimlessly through life without direction, still haunted by what she left behind. When another investigator offers her the opportunity to revisit her old stomping ground and possibly solve the mystery of what happened to the Velkwood Vicinity (as it’s come to be known), Talitha agrees, and she must steel herself to face up to the spectres of her past.

As in her 2018 powerhouse The Rust Maidens, Gwendolyn Kiste dips mystery in a delicious coating of Gen X/Millennial nostalgia while adding just enough creepiness to unsettle the reader. The sentimentality in The Haunting of Velkwood, however, is bittersweet. As the story vacillates between the present day and Talitha’s memories of her childhood, the reader is reminded of how difficult negotiating adolescence is, as “it’s such a strange thing to be seventeen. So close to freedom, yet a thousand miles away.”  

Velkwood‘s main characters not only are pursued by the spectres of their past but are phantoms of their girlhood selves, walking hollows of the adults they might have become. While “Brett was all sharp edges, broken glass in the shape of a girl,” Talitha, the tale’s narrator, characterizes herself as “a fly in the ointment of [her] own life.” The neighbourhood’s residents, meanwhile, are monsters in their own right, witnessing the horrors hiding in plain sight yet refusing to act to stop them, as “the sharp crack of the door closing behind them [reverberates] like a coffin lid slamming shut.”

What’s always refreshing about Kiste’s work is her ability to stitch serious issues into the seams of her storylines without weighing the plot (or reader) down with preachy or overwrought discussion. Throughout the novel, there is a solid motif of shattered lives: if something manages to escape the Velkwood bubble, it soon disintegrates, and as it travels further from the neighbourhood, dissolves into ash. These physical erosions mirror one of the characters’ memories of “the final days when we acted like we were a family like we hadn’t broken into more pieces than a person could ever repair.” The characters’ unresolved issues with the spectral residents of the Velkwood vicinity encompass much of the novel’s conflict: as Talitha notes, “It’s something you carry with you for life—the people you come from and the marks they leave on you.” 

These marks are both literal and figurative. There is family trauma aplenty skulking about Velkwood Street, and Kiste presents it not voyeuristically but with solemn accuracy. The novel as a whole could be read as an allegory for escaping from and finding closure for abuse in childhood, but for those wary of being saddled with heaviness in their recreational reading, be certain: The Haunting of Velkwood is a ghost story and a damn entertaining one at that. At no point does the storyline drag or meander: Kiste’s expert storytelling and engaging prose ensure that readers will have difficulty putting the book down. This is a must-read for 2024.

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Haunting of Velkwood  by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Velkwood Vicinity was the topic of occult theorists, tabloid one-hour documentaries, and even some pseudo-scientific investigations as the block of homes disappeared behind a near-impenetrable veil that only three survivors could enter–and only one has in the past twenty years, until now.

Talitha Velkwood has avoided anything to do with the tragedy that took her mother and eight-year-old sister, drifting from one job to another, never settling anywhere or with anyone, feeling as trapped by her past as if she was still there in the small town she so desperately wanted to escape from. When a new researcher tracks her down and offers to pay her to come back to enter the vicinity, Talitha claims she’s just doing it for the money. Of all the crackpot theories over the years, no one has discovered what happened the night Talitha, her estranged, former best friend Brett, and Grace, escaped their homes twenty years ago. Will she finally get the answers she’s been looking for all these years, or is this just another dead end?

Award-winning author Gwendolyn Kiste has created a suburban ghost story about a small town that trapped three young women who must confront the past if they’re going to have a future.

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