The Daughters of Block Island by Christa Carmen
Thomas & Mercer (December 1, 2023)
331 pages; $12.78 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
The gothic horror novel just received a massive shot of adrenaline to its bleak-but-beautiful-heart. Christa Carmen provides that jolt in The Daughters of Block Island, a stunning novel that arrives in the final month of the year, just in time for the calendar’s longest nights of darkness. In this debut novel, Carmen doesn’t attempt to top the classics; instead, she subverts them in a unique manner. She embraces the tropes that made the subgenre what it is and forges an enthralling tale of two sisters, a strange town, and a cast of characters that would make the masters proud.
Block Island holds many secrets for residents, both past and present, even for the forgotten or shunned. Set in the fading light of the tourist season, Blake Bronson arrives in search of her birth mother. She takes up residence in the alluring White Hall, a gothic staple of a mansion if there ever was one. The pair of sisters who maintain the ghostly rooms and corridors also seem more than a bit off in their demeanor. In the opening prologue, the reader is given the reveal that Blake winds up murdered. This might have been a misstep in less talented hands, yet Carmen has patience and enjoys the buildup of both character and suspense in Blake’s quest to connect with her birth mother. The palpable tension grips the reader by the throat as the inevitable unfolds exactly as the author intended.
Once that event occurs, the sister, Thalia, arrives in search of what happened to Blake. Why didn’t she know she had a sibling, and should she visit her mother and the long-buried secrets unearthed?
Thalia might know Block Island, but when she investigates Blake’s murder she discovers much more than expected about the sisters who run White Hall and the previous deaths within; her mother; and what the other residents refuse to speak of.
Like the best of the gothic horror tales, this is well-suited for this time of year when the shadows smother the sun and the darkness within humans bleeds into the night.
If this is any indication of what Christa Carmen can bring into the world, readers will be smiling under candlelight for years to come. An exceptional new talent has arrived.