This is dangerous territory for writers of the genre: paranormal psychological phenomena. Is ESP real and measurable? Can the wall between reality and the otherworldly be breached? Certainly, many have tried to transport from the living to the dead, most notable the Victorian penchant for séances and communications with the deceased, often fraudulent attempts to separate grieving family members from their money. Sokoloff knocks on that dark door again in this thriller, as two professors from Duke University try to recreate a 1965 experiment with such tragic consequences that all records have been sealed until recently. But now Professors Laurel MacDonald and Brendan Cody have undertaken to reassemble the critical participants of the original experiment, a mysterious study in ESP at Folger House, using two high-testing students as the other members of the quartet.
Professor MacDonald is new to the Duke faculty. She has come from California, a shattering emotional trauma leaving her vulnerable and rootless, transplanted to an unfamiliar place to begin anew. It is not surprising that Laurel joins forces with Brendan when the charming coworker helps her locate the mystery-shrouded Folger House where they will conduct the experiment. MacDonald and Cody live in a "publish or perish" environment, the subject of their study having broad appeal in a cynical world where such things as poltergeists remain a source of public curiosity. Folger House is intimidating, the four visitors an odd blend of skepticism and curiosity. Tyler Mountford is undoubtedly brilliant, but vaguely untrustworthy. Katrina de Vore clearly has a serious crush on Professor Cody, who slightly resembles the fiancé that Laurel left behind in California. Brendan is perhaps the most obviously invested in the success of the experiment.
The author has primed this pump for maximum unpredictability, her anxious characters thrust into a remote location that reeks of a menace and the past, of madness and mystery, of poltergeists and inexplicable occurrences. Modern technology may not be sufficient when dark forces rule and foolish humans call out to the unknown to manifest itself. Strange dreams, shifting perspectives, loud thumps and rock showers abound, as Cody and MacDonald find themselves just as unmoored as the screaming Katrina when the mirrors shatter in her room. While Laurel hovers between logic and fear, the house comes alive with malice. A denouement beckons, inviting, but I haven't quite made the leap of faith required by this thriller. Terror hovers at the edges of this tale, but never exactly reaches the threshold, lots of racket and banging, but just this side of truly memorable or believable. Luan Gaines/2009.