07 January 2015

If There Be Thorns (Dollanganger, Book 3)


Synopsis from back cover: Fourteen-year-old Jory was so handsome, so gentle. And Bart had such a dazzling imagination for a nine year old.

Then the lights came on in the abandoned house next door. Soon the Old Lady in Black was there, watching their home with prying eyes, guarded by her strange old butler. Soon the shrouded woman had Bart over for cookies and ice cream and asked him to call her "Grandmother."

And soon Bart's transformation began...

A transformation that sprang from "the book of secrets" the gaunt old butler had given him... a transformation fed by the hint of terrible things about his mother and father... a transformation that led him into shocking acts of violence, self-destruction and perversity.

And now while this little boy trembles on the edge of madness, his anguished parents, his helpless brother, an obsessed old woman and the vengeful, powerful butler await the climax to a horror that flowered in an attic long ago, a horror whose thorns are still wet with blood, still tipped with fire....

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Pocket Book, 1981.

How acquired: I've had this book in my personal collection for about twenty years. No idea how I acquired it.

First line: In the late evening when the shadows were long, I sat quiet and unmoving near one of Paul's marble statues.

My thoughts: My only real complaints about PETALS ON THE WIND were:
...the dialogue is clunky and unrealistic, and I can't imagine a world where people cry out the (sometimes lengthy) speeches these characters are saddled with. And there is much overuse of exclamation points...

So I'm pleased to report that neither of those problems assailed me while reading IF THERE BE THORNS. The one page prologue is narrated by Cathy, wherein she tells us this is her sons' stories. After that the chapters alternate between fourteen year old Jory, Cathy's sensitive ballet loving son with first husband Julian, and ten year old Bart, her clumsy awkward son with her mother's second husband, also called Bart. Cathy and Chris are now living together as husband and wife, and the boys believe their step-father is the younger brother of Cathy's second husband, Paul.

When an old lady, always shrouded head to toe in black, moves into the mansion next door with her elderly butler, Jory and Bart are disappointed to lose their playground, especially since no children move in. But she and her butler soon weave a spell over Bart – the old lady encourages him to call her Grandma and plies him with sweets and toys and a dog and much love and attention, while the butler tells him stories about his real father and his great-grandfather. At first Bart thinks the stories are just that, made up lies, but as he reads Malcolm Foxworth's journal, he seems turn into an old man himself, convinced that his mother is a sinner and must be saved from hell fire.

After the first two chapters, which are titled “Jory” and “Bart”, you can tell almost immediately which brother is narrating as the author gives them distinctive voices.

As Cathy and Chris helplessly watch their secret life start to unravel and the repercussions visited on their sons, the tension amps up and up, so that during the last third of the book I was almost holding my breath at times. With the focus on the boys rather than Chris and Cathy, this entry in the series feels less like a “guilty pleasure”, and not quite as trashy as the first two books. A mesmerizing read that I raced through.

Here's my review of Book 1 in the series, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC.

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