Book Review: 'Deadfall Hotel' by Steve Rasnic Tem


Horror legend Steve Rasnic Tem returns with Deadfall Hotel, a modern fairytale, haunted house story, vampire novel, cult novel, werewolf novel, zombie story, and just plain old "weird tale" ("weird" in the tradition of Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen more so than Lovecraft in this work).  It's a masterful hodgepodge of genre tropes and devices that—much like Peter Straub's magnificent Floating Dragon—in the hands of a lesser writer would have collapsed.

Deadfall Hotel follows Richard Carter and his daughter, Serena.  Recently widowed and unemployed, Richard takes a job as manager at Deadfall Hotel.  Caretaker, Jacob Ascher, shows him the ropes, and how to protect himself and his daughter in their new home.  From the beginning things with the hotel are not as Richard and Serena expected, but they make due.  The strange and supernatural become a part of life, as routine as a morning cup of coffee, that is, until they turn threatening.

At the root of Deadfall Hotel's many tropes and sub-plots is Richard's love for his daughter, and it is this aspect that truly shines.  As effective as the horror sequences are (and they are—especially the "king of cats" chapter, which contains one of the greatest chase sequences in the history of horror literature), at the heart of Deadfall Hotel is the story of a father doing everything he can to make life the best it can be for his daughter, and his struggles to protect her from the hotel, its guests, and the fear accompanying her burgeoning womanhood.  In all of horror literature, I can think of no other novel that explores parental love as effectively or as deeply.

Joe R. Lansdale once said, "Steve Rasnic Tem is a school of writing unto himself," and Deadfall clearly illustrates this fact.  No one else could have written this novel.  With its varying pieces and almost picaresque structure, Deadfall Hotel could have easily fallen apart or gone so far over-the-top that its underlying message and its effectiveness would have been lost.  The restraint that keeps this from happening is reminiscent of the late-great Charles L. Grant (to whom Deadfall is dedicated), but it is a story that Grant never could have or would have written.  And it is a story that I cannot recommend highly enough.

This edition also comes with a wonderful afterword on the history of the novel, which began in 1985 as the story "Bloodwolf" (published originally in 1986 as part of Grant's Shadows series).  The afterword reads as a reminiscence on story, life, and point-of-view, and is a must read for any writer or aspiring writer.  Also included is the original version of "Bloodwolf" and a new Deadfall story, "Skullbees."  The novel is fully illustrated by Danish artist, John Kenn Mortensen, whose work, though reminiscent of Edward Gory, is uniquely creepy and innocent in a way that fits Tem's novel perfectly.

Deadfall Hotel is everything a horror novel should be.  Steve Rasnic Tem is at the height of his powers with this effort.  If you're a fan of horror, the weird, or just plain old great storytelling, give Deadfall Hotel a read.  You won't regret it.

Centipede Press
ISBN: 978-1-61347-012-1
$65 Signed/Limited Hardcover