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'The Haunting of Velkwood' Book Review

by Sarah Musnicky

In hauntings, these incidents are typically trapped within one location: a church, a hospital, a home, etc. But what happens when the haunting is a neighborhood? The past always leaves its mark, and in Gwendolyn Kiste’s THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD, revisiting the past may be the only way to relieve this haunting.

Twenty years ago, The Velkwood Vicinity was just like any other neighborhood. Then, one day, it became shrouded in a veil that no one else has been able to penetrate since. The only people who managed to get out of Velkwood were three women: Talitha, Brett, and Grace. Once friends, these women have since gone their separate ways, unwilling to address what happened all those years ago.

Talitha is trapped in a stasis. She goes from job to job, barely making ends meet while avoiding anything to do with the haunting. When a researcher comes and offers her money, Talitha jumps at the opportunity. Initially, the money seems to be the incentive, but something within her is ready to put together the pieces to figure out the mystery behind Velkwood’s malady. Will returning to Velkwood finally give her the answers she desires, or will it open up a new treasure trove of demons to drag her under?

Hauntings are only as good as their location. How Kiste constructs the Velkwood neighborhood in THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD immediately transports readers to a particular slice of Americana that feels like a pipedream. It was a neighborhood like any other until it wasn’t. Velkwood could easily be any neighborhood, full of the secrets it refuses to address and the hate that grips a community. Through these unaddressed ills, a haunting is born.

These secrets also haunt the characters, particularly Talitha. Of the three who escaped, Talitha is the most fleshed out. Kiste uses Talitha's internal dialogue to highlight the woman's self-imposed loop. She may have escaped the Velkwood Vicinity, but she is just as trapped in repetition as those she left behind. At times, this creates almost a feeling of redundancy, but only Talitha can free herself from this cycle of thinking she finds herself in.

THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD flows at an easy enough pace. At 256 pages, Kiste's mastery of a voice and tension creates a pageturner. That said, things in the text could be built out to allow the audience to sink further into its characters.

Being on the shorter end, this novel could have benefitted from a little fleshing out. The climax and its subsequent aftermath read rushed. With the build-up surrounding Talitha's and Brett's past, their relationship, etc., THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD's final act needed more time to fully land the punch, exposing the haunting's mysteries.

Grace, the third person who escaped the Velkwood vicinity, and a later introduced character intimately tied with the haunting leave a minimal impression. This makes sense, with so much of the story's perspective focusing on Talitha's point of view. Later revelations surrounding a mysterious character prompt more questions than answers, with Talitha's perspective rendering that character more like a sketch than a fully realized person.

THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD rightfully pulls back the veil on how a community's failure to address its wrongs haunts them. The ripple effect of the past is far-reaching. The impressions made on children growing up carry over fully into adulthood. We see this in Talitha and Brett and how they've lived their lives since they escaped. This exploration proves to be where Kiste is most successful and ultimately delivers the story's finest reward.

A pageturner from beginning to end, THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD is a mostly successful haunting venture. Expanding beyond a home and trickling over into the community breathes fresh air into the genre while reminding the audience that what we think stays at home always spills over. If we ignore it, well, we need to ready ourselves for the consequences.

THE HAUNTING OF VELKWOOD is now available where books are sold.


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