Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Death Chamber by Sarah Rayne

Title: The Death Chamber
Author: Sarah Rayne
ISBN: 0743285840/ Simon & Schuster, 2008
Genre: Thriller
Rating: D

First Line: Georgina read the letter a second time--and then a third-- because it was so extraordinary there was a strong possibility she had misunderstood it.

Georgina Grey's lover and partner is gone, leaving both her and their design firm severely in need of funds. When Georgina receives a letter informing her that she may inherit a bit of money from the Caradoc Society, she leaves at once for Cumbria. What she doesn't realize is that she will be learning a great deal about her family, for her great-grandfather had been a doctor at nearby Calvary Gaol in the late 1930s. As Georgina is settling in to straighten out the details of her bequest, Chad Ingram and his team are finalizing their own plans to document the strange and possibly supernatural goings on at the prison. Just how dangerous is Calvary Gaol?

The Death Chamber is chockful of possibilities that just don't pan out. There are too many characters in too many decades, and it rapidly becomes difficult to keep them all straight. There are too many competing plot threads: Georgina and her bequest, Ingram and his television program, one of the wardens during the World War I era steps in with his agenda, a few of the condemned prisoners have their own plot threads, as do a couple of the gaolers. There's another warden, another prison doctor, a blind journalist who's supposed to be helping Ingram, and a strange little man in charge of the soon-to-be-defunct Caradoc Society who reminds me more than a bit of Norman Bates. Are you confused yet? By the time I got to the end of this 500+ page epic, I almost didn't care about who had done what to whom or about anyone's true identity.

For this book to succeed with me, Rayne would have had to change guns and ammunition. Instead of a shotgun loaded with buckshot, she would have needed to switch to a rifle and one bullet. What am I talking about? Focus on one character, and have most of the action revolve around that one person. With characters, action and decades pruned back, Rayne's skill at the "creep factor" would be shown to much greater advantage. More than once, her scenes of Calvary Gaol gave me the first pricklings of goosebumps:

As the hours went by Walter could no longer tell which were the furtive conversations of the warders and which was the sighing of the wind. The impression that something invisible and implacable was stirring in Calvary's bones grew on him. Something creeps into the place, the prisoner had said in the infirmary. Something creeps in...

With a reduced cast and better targeted action, The Death Chamber would have held my interest from first page to last. As it is, it was a bit of a muddle that I only finished hoping that my confusion would lift. It didn't.


  1. I only ever made it a third of the way through one of Rayne's books - spider something it was - just couldn't get into it at all

  2. Good, honest review. It's a shame, isn't it, when a writer with a good plot gets off track.

  3. Bernadette--was it for the same reason that I was so annoyed with this one...that she threw everything into it including the kitchen sink?

    Margot--It certainly is!

  4. I hate when there are too many characters and story lines in a book. It's just too distracting.

  5. I don't like a lot of characters involved in a lot of plotlines - I find I spend half my time flipping back through the book trying to keep things straight in my mind.

  6. Kathy and Belle--Normally I don't have too much trouble keeping large numbers of characters and plot lines straight, but in this case none of them were adequately fleshed out to stick in my mind properly!


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