A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson

(8.5/10) A Stir of Echoes is still a powerful read.

On August 29, 2013 Tor Books republished Richard Matheson's A Stir of Echoes, a novel first published in 1958 and adapted into a critically acclaimed film starring Kevin Bacon in 1999.

The story centres on Tom Wallace, a seemingly normal suburban man, living an ordinary and happy life. But one evening his brother-in-law challenges him to undergo hypnosis, which he accepts in order to prove a point. Not only does Tom find himself succumbing to what he felt was just a cheap parlour track he also finds the experience leaves him with new powers: He can now sense his neighbour's darkest desires, and see glimpses into both the past and the future. But as his existence becomes unbearable and his sanity threatened, he faces the biggest revelation of all - a message from beyond the grave.

Richard Matheson is always worth reading and he is of course the author of I Am Legend, the Dracula of its generation, such has been its effect on the genre and writers that followed. And while A Stir of Echoes may not been on the same level it is still as able to pack as strong a punch as it was 55 years ago.

For some reason I cannot competently explain I have always found the 1950's naturally creepy and felt that behind the imposed masks of righteousness and high moral standards that the decade was keen to promote there always lurked something dark and sinister, that there were skeletons in the closet. And this book just further reinforces my uneasiness! Yes, it is a little of its time in regards to how the female characters are portrayed but this is far from being an insurmountable obstacle and the tension is tangible throughout with the falsely sincere wholesomeness of 1950's American suburbia laid bare as Tom's new talents allow him to see behind - and into - the depths of darkness that lay behind.

The plot is well constructed, showing Tom's descent into madness and the benefits and disadvantages that come from having second sight and the book is as well-written as you would expect from someone as talented as Matheson, with a dark, foreboding feel to the narrative. The book builds nicely towards an energetic, tense climax that came as a surprise as Matheson had cunningly led the reader to expect something different.

Although not on a par with I Am Legend (which few books are), A Stir of Echoes is still a powerful and, coming in at just over 200 pages, quick read.

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