A STIR OF ECHOES by Richard Matheson
I saw Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes years ago and really enjoyed the movie as a slow boil horror/mystery. I’d known Richard Matheson, a renowned writer who produced tales of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and penned more than a few Twilight Zone episodes, had written the book the movie was based on, but I’d never read it.
I wanted something different to read in the middle of all the Dray Prescot books I’m reading over the Christmas break, happened across this one on Amazon, and downloaded it on a whim. Then I sat down to read.
Richard Matheson was an excellent storyteller. It doesn’t matter what medium he worked in: novel, short story, television. He just introduced you to a character and a situation, and then he got on with it. A Stir of Echoes (notice that the book is titled differently than the movie) starts out calmly, just a dinner date that includes a brother-in-law who gets along well with his sister and Tom Wallace, the narrator of this tale.
After getting hypnotized, Tom starts seeing a mysterious woman in his house and becomes convinced she is a ghost. This book was written back in 1958 (I was actually surprised by the copyright date) and talk of medium and séances had kind of faded, although SF had picked up the “wild talents” theory (basically psi powers like telepathy, precognition, and psychometry, etc.).
Matheson’s story is a quick, gripping read. Although I had seen the movie, I was delighted to learn that the book was not the same story. Most of it is there, but the tension ratchets up in different ways and the ending is much different.
The thing I liked the most is the fact that Tom Wallace just seems like an everyday guy, a buddy you could hang with at work, a friend who has a family life and problems similar to yours. It’s that everyman feel that really sets off this book. I was swept away by the story, by Tom’s problems and his efforts to handle them for himself and his family. I was so caught up in them that I forgot that I wasn’t reading about the 21st century. The absence of computers and cell phones never really touched me because I was so firmly entrenched in Tom’s world.
The book does take a weird twist at the end, and that bothered me somewhat. Although Tom is on hand for the finale, he’s not really cognizant of the action. I didn’t much care for that, but the whole confrontation that takes place proceeds at a blistering pace and turns so unexpectedly I was caught flatfooted.
This is a good book for a weekend read. Dedicated readers can probably knock it out in a night or two. Rest assured, if you’ve seen the Kevin Bacon movie (also good!), you haven’t seen everything Matheson has to offer. Pick up a copy for a slow, dark weekend and enjoy being captivated