Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review: 'The Search for Joseph Tully' by William H. Hallahan

2 / 5 Stars

After reading the favorable reviews bestowed on this novel at, and at the ‘Too Much Horror Fiction’ blog, I went and ordered it. 

‘Search’ was first published in 1974; this Avon paperback (283 pp.) was released in 1977.

The novel certainly starts on a gripping prologue, as the reader witnesses a graphic act of torture taking place in 15th century Italy. 

The narrative then shifts to New York City, ca. 1974, where the residents of a stately old apartment house despondently contemplate moving out. An entire block of tenements is being razed as part of an urban redevelopment scheme, and the wrecking ball swings every day on the condemned structures next to the building housing our cast of characters.

The main character is Peter Richardson, an editor, recently divorced and troubled by bad dreams and a premonition that someone means him deadly harm. One of the book’s two major plot threads deals with Richardson’s increasing unease, and the efforts of his neighbors to bring all manner of 70s pop culture resources to bear on the issue, such as Tarot readings and intense discussions of Occult Phenomena.

The other major plot thread is concerned with the efforts of a young English lawyer, Matthew Willow, who makes New York City his temporary home. Willow embarks on a series of researches into the genealogical history of Joseph Tully and his four sons, who emigrated to the American Colonies in the decades prior to the Revolution. The segments of the book dealing with Willow’s adventures constitute something of a primer on how to conduct genealogical investigations.

The ‘hook’ of ‘Search’, the fixture that induces the reader to keep turning the pages, is the how and why these two seemingly disparate threads will ultimately join, and how they will relate to the incident described in the book’s prologue.

Author Hallahan keeps his chapters brief and his prose understated and terse. The book’s Winter-time setting lends an unrelenting note of existential bleakness to the actions of the characters. Indeed, only Peter Straub’s ‘Ghost Story’, another mid-70s horror novel, does as well in using the cold and darkness of January and February to lend added layers of despair and hopelessness to the narrative.

However, by the time I reached the halfway point of ‘Search’ I found that the red herrings popping up every few pages weren’t enough to keep the story from losing momentum. I became increasingly impatient as the storyline puttered along, with only modest signs of moving to a denouement worthy of the Portents of Doom swirling ever more closely around the befuddled Richardson. And the denouement, which occupies just a few of the book’s very last pages, was a letdown; I felt it could have been disclosed 50 pages sooner without losing much of its impact.

I can’t share the enthusiasm for ‘Search’, but readers who are tolerant of a more deliberate type of narrative, one with elements of a mystery rather than those of a frank horror tale, may want to give this book a try.

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