”There were dark blue hollows beneath his eyes, his lips were gray and slack, and the cheap brown suit he wore was blotched with mud and mildew. The front of his white linen shirt and his tattered black ascot was dappled with sherry stains; his frayed cuffs shot out of the coat like a poor schoolboy’s. He radiated the heat of fever, and as he shivered in a sudden chill he lay down his pen and put a trembling hand to his brow; his dark hair was damp with sweat, and tiny beads of moisture in his thin dark mustache glinted with yellow lamplight. Poe gave a deep, rattling cough. ‘Forgive me,’ he said. ‘I’ve been ill.’”
When Edgar Allan Poe conceived the Usher Malady, in his famous short story, I do wonder if he wasn’t describing an affliction that he himself had suffered from in some form or fashion. When I read of him, he is never vigorous but always on the point of collapse. Though his body may be wracked with fever or with cold sweats, there is little doubt that any blight he is suffering from originates from the melancholy that hangs like a foggy curtain in all the corners of his mind.
Poe told us about Roderick and Madeline Usher, but he never mentioned there was another brother Hudson. After much searching through dusty archives and long lost references, Robert R. McCammon discovered the missing connections and found that the Usher’s are alive and well...well...maybe not all that well.
Walen Usher is dying, and though Rix had swore he would never return to Usherland, he finds himself irresistibly drawn back into the madness of his family. His brother Boone and his sister Katt are also part of their father’s death vigil. The Usher’s have been in the armament business, and the various arms races going on around the world have been very good to the family. In fact, ten billion dollars good. Rix doesn’t want anything to do with the family business; actually, he was arrested protesting the war, much to the embarrassment of his family. He is a struggling horror writer. Part of his struggle comes from the fact that he refuses to use his family name, but instead writes under a pseudonym. More marketing dollars would be available, and more interest generated, if the reading public knew his books were being written by an Usher.
He doesn’t want anything to do with the name of Usher.
Still...ten billion dollars.
”--no more hassles no more books no more agents’ dirty looks--”
Boone is a gambling fool, a puffed shirt really, a bully, and completely unsuited to take over as patriarch of the Usher family. Katt has the inside track with a beautiful face and a beautiful mind to go with it. Still, no woman has ever wielded the cane, the family sceptre for which some unknown power seems to exude.
The Usher Malady is hereditary, and it has been passed down faithfully to each new generation. Walen was a vigorous, healthy man just weeks before, but now his body seems to be melting from within and without. The reek from his decomposition permeates the house and becomes a constant reminder of what the Malady will eventually do to all the Usher siblings.
Rix, out of desperation with the added bonus of being disloyal to his father, decides that he will write a history of the Usher family. His father had brought boxes of diaries, letters, and papers from the Usher archives to the library intending to study them, but now, with revelation after revelation, they fan the flames of Rix’s ambition. There is more at stake than he knew, and as his investigations take him deeper into the family secrets, other powerful forces are trying to shape the course of events and the future of the Usher name.
Raven Dunstan-- the crusading reporter who wants to know the truth about the Usher family.
The Mountain King--”His complexion was a chalky yellow. She stared at the network of scars that covered almost all of his face; the right eye was gone. The left eye, though covered with a thin gray film, was pale green and held a gleam of crafty intelligence.”
The Pumpkin Man--”He wore a funeral suit of black velvet and a black top hat. His face was as yellow as spoiled milk. He carried a scythe that glowed electric blue in the moonlight, and with a wave of one skeletal hand he parted the underbrush before him. Those who had seen him and lived to tell the tale said his eyes shone like green lamps, his face was split by a cunning grin, his teeth sharpened to tiny points.”
The Pumpkin Man, as if he isn’t scary enough, has a sidekick, a black panther like no other. ”Greediguts’ eyes were golden-green lamps in the dark. Slowly the monster emerged...first its blood-smeared maw, then its black skull with the lightning-streak burn across it--.... Its muscular body blocked the tunnel, and its leathery, scaled tail rose up and snapped brutally in the air.”
It becomes difficult for Rix to decipher who has the real power. The true agendas of all involved are hidden under generations of secrecy and misleading information. Is the sceptre the key to everything, or is there something much more diabolical at work in the House of Usher?
I had started reading this book, and within a few pages I set it aside and pulled my Library of America Collected Tales of Poe from the shelf. I was becoming uneasy that McCammon would throw some wonderful references to the original story in this novel, and I would miss them simply because too much time had passed since I’d read The Fall of the House of Usher. I’m so glad I did reread the Poe story and would certainly recommend the same course of action to anyone considering reading this book.
To those who love Poe this is a must read. To those who are looking for a gothic horror fix this certainly fits the bill. To those that appreciate a fast paced, yet thoughtful, thrilling, reading experience this book will certainly fire your imagination and keep you entertained deep into the darkest part of the night.
My The Fall of the House of Usher Review
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