Karen meets Joel as she is recovering from a personal tragedy and trying to get her life back on track. A burst water pipe in mid-winter sees Karen moving in with Joel, into his ranch house. Karen starts hearing things go bump in the night and has spectral visions of a little blonde girl with killer green eyes. This is not your average ghost story. It is more poltergeist-with-malice than your typical haunting.
Karen is accustomed to her independence and she’s not sure that moving in with Joel is the right thing to do; it’s a little too soon for her liking but the burst water pipe and needing place to live in the middle of winter trumps following her gut instincts. Joel isn’t quite the intellectual stud that she’d hoped for but he’s good looking, caring and the sex is good. Then things start getting a little hinky. Karen starts seeing an apparition of a little girl with vivid green eyes, wearing a white dress; the spare bedroom, Joel’s storage room, has an icy chill about it; and Joel has created an unnerving collection of paintings and sketches of the girl in the white dress. Even more unnerving, and weird, is Joel’s refusal to admit to Karen that he knows about the green-eyed ghost, or that the ghost was responsible for the death of his wife.
It’s at this point that I think the story looses credibility. I just couldn’t believe that a man who lost his wife due to the evil machinations of a demon spirit would then pretend that the spirit didn’t exist, or would put the new woman he loves in danger. There is no resistance or fight in Joel. He’s flat and has a blancmange personality. One other odd inclusion that I struggled to understand was the cat. There are chapters throughout the book that are told through the eyes of Joel’s cat. Now, this would be fine if it served some purpose, if the cat somehow gave us additional insights but it doesn’t. Rather than add to the mystery of the story, they were disjointing, and distracting. I kept asking myself, ‘Why, why are these cat inserts here?’
Karen ultimately feels challenged: she has to take a stand to protect her man, and herself, from the evil ghost in the white dress. She starts doing some research and finds that the little girl has been haunting Joel’s family for several generations. It’s at this point that The Cold Room introduces references to Native American history and early settlers, which presumably is where the inspiration from actual events comes from. The timeline of events are actually really interesting and give the haunting a solid basis and substance.
The tension slowly builds throughout the story and finally reaches a gruesome, violent climax. Personally, I think the level of violence is excessive and unnecessary. I think that the tension, menace and fear could have been instilled in the reader with less graphic depiction of events. It was a bit like watching an action scene that went on for too long, with too much firepower, and too many bullets, which creates a rift and breaks you out of your engagement with the scene.
While this book was entertaining, I did struggle with it at times. It’s the sort of book that is good for a beach read, but there were times where I lost interest with it. The characters were well developed in places but Joel is flat, lacks depth. He was more like eye-candy, a himbo. The demon-girl gains her strength through Joel’s paintings of her, and Karen and Janet, Joel’s mother, tell Joel to destroy the paintings to prevent the girl from hurting anyone else, since she has already killed Joel’s first wife. Joel lies about burning the paining’s and instead hides them in the barn. Given the life-or-death threat associated with the ghost-girl, I found that Karen and Janet neglected to convincingly convey the urgency and danger of the situation to Joel. It was obviously a means of introducing the final crescendo of the showdown between Karen and the demon-ghost-girl, but it could have been better executed.
If you’re looking for an easy read, with the thrill of a ghost story mixed with a bit of romance, historical fact, and a clash-to-the-death between good and evil, then this is the book for you.
The Cold Room by J.N LaVelle (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013) ISBN: 9781494281700