Review: Bliss House by Laura Benedict
Laura Benedict has written several books and is known for her publication Surreal South, an anthology of Short Fiction. Her newest novel is titled Bliss House, and in this work, Benedict draws inspiration from the surreal. In Bliss House, main character Rainey Bliss Adams learns that although you can go home, sometimes you just shouldn’t.
Rainey and her fourteen-year-old daughter Ariel have had a difficult time. Rainey’s husband died in a freak gas explosion that left Ariel with terrible scarring. To escape their old life and the too-curious eyes of Ariel’s former friends, Rainey moves her daughter to Old Gate, Virginia. Rainey’s family once lived in Old Gate and owned Bliss House, a sprawling mansion built by a Bliss ancestor in the late 1800s. Rainey believes that coming home will work like a tonic on both her and Ariel, and she hopes that being surrounded by other Bliss relatives will give the young girl a much-needed support system.
Yet tranquility eludes them. The very night Rainey gives an open house party to introduce herself into Old Gate’s high society, the unthinkable happens. Karin Powell, the real estate agent who helped Rainey close on Bliss House, is found dead at the bottom of the stairs; the police rule her death as a suicide, but is it? That night, Ariel witnesses a woman going over the third floor balcony, but she swears the woman she saw was not Karin at all. And that’s not all Ariel has seen. Her father begins to appear to the young girl whenever she is in a dreamlike state, and a menacing presence in the third floor ballroom has made itself known to Ariel in a way the girl is not soon to forget.
Bliss House is full of secrets, and death and disappearances have always been part of the house’s history. Is Bliss House ready to claim more victims now that it is inhabited again, or can Rainey break the spell the house has over her and Ariel in enough time to save themselves?
What Benedict does well in this novel is create suspense and use just enough of the supernatural to make the house a malevolent presence without it becoming too sinister. Can a house truly be evil, or do the people who inhibit the home merely force their attitudes and behaviors on a house until it absorbs that negative vibe? Benedict addresses this question by giving the house enough personality that it becomes a character. The house has many secrets, and through slow revelations to the impressionable Ariel, readers learn of the dark deeds it has played host to over the years.
The book is well written, but one or two subplots are not quite fleshed out enough. When Karin Powell’s family comes to stay with her husband Gerard during the investigation of her death, they cause some moments of discomfort for Gerard. Karin’s sister Molly is obviously attracted to her brother-in-law, but when he spurns her advances, the moment becomes heated with some pushing and shoving. In retaliation, Molly goes to the police and accuses Gerard of attacking her. In a strange moment where she proves herself to be more of an exhibitionist than someone to be taken seriously, she demands the police arrest Gerard for assault and for driving Karin to suicide.
She stopped unbuttoning with two buttons left to go, and pushed the blouse back over one shoulder. Her peaches-and-cream breasts were bare. She wore no bra or jewelry.
“Ma’am,” Lucas said, “please don’t do that.”
Molly said, “Look at this. Look what he did to me.” She turned so they could see the four gray bruises on the back of her shoulder. “And here.” She turned back again and pointed to the dark oval of a fifth bruise at the front. Staring at them defiantly, she waited for some kind of response.
“Put your shirt back on, please. If you don’t I’ll be forced to write you up for indecent exposure,” Lucas said.
She re-buttoned it slowly, watching him.
Instead of arresting Gerard, the police dismiss Molly’s assertions as what they are: a woman spurned seeking retribution. After this, Karin’s family disappears from the book. Their involvement serves to further suspicion of Gerard in the eyes of the police, but they need more presence to make them truly viable.
Overall, Laura Benedict’s novel Bliss House is a solid read for fans of suspense and the supernatural. Benedict expertly crafts spine-tingling moments that are sure to keep the reader engaged. Scary enough that you’ll want to keep the light on after the book is put down, Bliss House is delightfully haunting.