Episode 13 by Craig DiLouie
Redbook (January 24 2023)
464 pages; $18.99 paperback; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
The new year might kick off with its first amazing novel. Episode Thirteen is different. For a fan of the paranormal, it checks all the right boxes. For horror fans, even more. For those who love different modalities of storytelling, well, double check.
Craig DiLouie is no stranger to strong writing and intriguing tales. Children of Red Peak, Suffer the Children, and One of Us each unsettled readers in all the right ways, but were straight ahead formats (and so well done!). This time, DiLouie delivers a kind of “found footage” novel written in journals, transcripts from film, and other manners, each from a different character’s unique viewpoint. It sounds like it might not work, like it might not evolve into a smart, effective horror novel, yet somehow, it does. It’s a slow burn that puts a new spin on that clichéd term.
The premise is simple: a paranormal team enters The Foundation House in Denton, Virginia, the crown jewel of ghost hunters. Their television show, Fade to Black, is on the cusp of survival, with its hosts Matt and Clair Kirklin an odd couple that clashes in all the best ways.
He’s the epitome of a believer in ghosts and all things haunted while she’s a step shy of her PhD and a diehard skeptic. Joining them are Jessica Valenza, a young, up-and-coming star who’s in the show just to make her mark and help her young son; Jake Wolffson, a cameraman with enough snark to be the ultimate millenial; and Kevin Linscott, the cameraman who used to be a cop.
Once the house begins to reveal itself, everything they’ve ever dreamt of begins to come true — and then some. Claire wrestles with her own beliefs, while the others figure out their true roles in the investigation. Is it all a hoax that causes them to turn on each other? A television ploy gone wrong? Or the real thing?
The manner in which DiLouie unravels the mystery of the experience and the house echoes Richard Matheson’s Legend of Hell House and Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, but in the style of The Blair Witch Project. It starts as playful and entertaining, almost lighthearted, before the author steps on the gas and the characters discovers what’s truly inside them.
As a ghost tour guide, this reviewer has high hopes for anything related to the subject. It’s tough to nail without sounding like one of the iconic novels mentioned above. DiLouie somehow manages it, scoring a hit here as he has with his previous efforts.
Easily destined to be an award nominee, and hopefully a film (if it’s possible to capture the material well), this is the first highly recommended novel of 2023.