In “22 Dutch Road” Schueler presents the story of Billy Buchanan, a troubled young man from Arkansas, who comes from a disadvantaged background. Billy is poor, but proud, and not unintelligent, good-looking, and some things are going well in his life. He has a wonderful girlfriend, Mandy, and a slightly controlling and dotting yet loving mother, Sarah, from whom Billy’s father is long-divorced. Billy and that partly-estranged father, Richard, had a tumultuous relationship.
Now, Richard has died. An arrogant, widowed lawyer – Deacon Bates – with an agenda, secrets, and major issues of his own including a young daughter who is terminally ill – who is in charge of Richard’s estates, is there to enforce Richard’s last wishes that Billy attend Richard’s mansion in South Carolina. With the promise of inheritance money coming as a result of Richard’s last will and testament, Billy spends his last dime to get to his father’s house.
But deceased Richard has some very peculiar conditions set in order for Billy to receive the money he so desperately needs. And Billy must spend five horrific nights at the mansion in order to get paid, even though that might cost him his job back home in Arkansas. The callous lawyer Bates seems completely insensitive to Billy’s predicament, and moreover, Bates has his own designs for Billy.
A nosy but caring neighbour, Stan, though a stranger, seems to be the only person Billy can rely on to help. Billy increasingly worries about his girlfriend’s fidelity and if she’s attracted to his best friend, his financial situation, but most of all his own sanity, as he is forced to stay in his dad’s deserted home.
Because Billy is hearing voices, Richard’s spirit seems to be haunting him, and the samurai statues on his dad’s front lawn seem to be slowly coming alive.
This incredible book features some outstanding character work. The tortured protagonist Billy has daddy issues, is medicated, and is an unreliable narrator. The reader will be unsure about what Billy is seeing and experiencing – is it real or hallucinatory. As the horrors of Richard’s house come to life, Billy’s best character attributes come to the fore. He is brave, resourceful, and determined to protect those he cares about.
The neighbour Stan is a wonderful character as well: kind, clever, and devoted husband, battling dementia, but determined to make a difference.
Auxiliary characters Mandy, Dwayne, Deacon, Emily, were also extremely well-drawn. Characters in the book suffer all the human imperfections and make some downright bad decisions. They have their individual challenges and / or disabilities. They frequently let each other down, but then come through in the clutch. Overall, they are very believable, flawed people, whom the reader will find compelling.
The themes Schueler explores kept me very engaged in the story. Found family, psychological abuse, estrangement, poverty, racism, bigotry, mental and physical illness and distress, dementia, infidelity, separation, loss, desperation, and more are all touched on in “22 Dutch Road”, and handled in with aplomb.
The horror element of the book was fabulous. With multiple POVs, the aforementioned unreliability of Billy’s perspective, the creeping sense of dread as the statues become more and more animated, foreboding, and aggressive, and stranger things start to happen overall, heightens the tension.
Throw in some sinister workers potentially tied to organized crime who are linked to the statues, some inept but dangerous bullies and troublemakers, intrepid policemen in the mix, and it’s a recipe for some great thrills, violence, and a shattering climax to the story.
What I loved the most is that it’s difficult to discern what’s real, and what’s imagined, making the vibe even more menacing. The reader’s emotions will be in for a ride as we laugh, are terrified, saddened, and wait with anticipation for the next shoe to drop. We will feel like Billy, that we are being manipulated somehow by Richard, from beyond the grave.
Schueler’s writing style is wonderful. It’s polished, sharp, and darkly witty. Like many of my favourite horror authors, Schueler has a knack for getting to the heart of the human condition, our darkest fears, and our sense of morality: dare I say in King-esque or Koontz-esque fashion.
Five stars for “22 Dutch Road”, definitely a recommended read, and Schueler is a very impressive horror writer to watch.