Here, for your reading pleasure, is the review in full. I TOLD you guys to read her books.
December 26, 2004
By MARILYN STASIO
Karen Novak's first novel, ''Five Mile House'' (2000), in which she introduced a police detective named Leslie Stone who could see dead people, was pretty strange. The second book in the series, ''Innocence'' (2003), in which the spirits of murdered children clamored for Leslie's attention, was stranger still. Now Novak has written something really weird.
THE WILDERNESS (Bloomsbury, paper, $15.95) is no more a conventional ghost story than the two previous books. Rather, it continues Novak's attempt to expand the limits of human understanding by probing Leslie's disordered mind for buried memories and subliminal images that might account for her extraordinary vision. As Novak puts it, her objective is to learn how blind spots work by studying the images the brain throws off to compensate for them.
Off the force and out of the institution where she landed after deliberately killing a child rapist, Leslie has made a pact with her husband, Greg (''I was not to harbor ghosts in secret''), and has set herself up at home as a private investigator. But when a frail old man, James Kendrick, is found frozen to death at Happy Andy's, an abandoned petting zoo she visited as a child, Leslie becomes obsessed with his death and gives herself up to the disturbing fantasies it awakens in her.
Novak is a spiral thinker and an imaginative storyteller, so while the dense narrative is apt to wander off like a child picking berries in the woods, individual scenes of horror stand their ground with the frightful intensity of a bad dream. The nightmares are especially vivid at Happy Andy's, where the locked pens of long-gone goats and ponies swing open and visitors are stalked by specters of angry peacocks. Unable to stay away from this dreadful place, Leslie follows the ghost of a little black girl in a white dress to a frozen rock pit where the skeletal remains of a child are found.
Leslie is now convinced that James Kendrick was the child murderer who was the bogeyman of her own childhood, a belief shared by Sophia Mallory, a black journalist with her own reasons for hiring Leslie to dig up the dead man's past. The two women puzzle over Kendrick's journal references to an old nursery rhyme whose lines can be manipulated for hidden meanings. Although much is made of what these cryptic readings reveal about the dark history of the Kendrick family, it's the imagery that unlocks Leslie's imagination and triggers her hallucinations. ''The bird stood in as guilt for my failures,'' she says of ''those iridescent and unforgiving eyes'' that stare at her from the peacock's tail.
Unfortunately, that guilt seems justified, considering the hell Leslie puts her family through when she stops taking her medication and sneaks out of the house to lose herself for days on end -- increasingly, in the company of a lover -- in what she calls ''my haunted amusement park of a mind.'' Not quite as cavalier about domestic responsibility as her headstrong heroine, Novak devotes entire chapters to tense updates from the home front, where Leslie's two daughters act out their anxieties about their absent mother while their father struggles to hold things together. For someone so committed to second sight, Leslie can be blind as a bat.