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The Piper by Lynn Hightower
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Severn House Publishers Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780727882516
Date: 01 April 2013 List Price $28.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Recently divorced and unemployed, Olivia James must leave her life in LA and move back to her family home in Knoxville, Tennessee. On the night before her move, she receives a phone call from her brother Chris warning her that the man responsible for their sister Emily's disappearance may come after her. The warning doesn't bother her as much as the fact that Chris has been dead for nine weeks. Olivia, her eight-year-old daughter, Teddy, and their dog Winston move into Chris's home. Soon afterwards, mysterious events start occurring, suggesting poltergeist activity. Then the suicides begin. Olivia learns she must pay a horrible price to a creature, known by many names, including the Pied Piper; if she fails, her daughter will mysteriously disappear forever like so many other children have done before her.

I was craving a creepy, horrifying ghost story and I found it in Lynn Hightower's The Piper. Her novel is based on the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, which took place in a remote, Medieval German village. In 1284, the mayor reneged on his deal to pay the piper for ridding his village of rats. In vengeance, the piper lured away approximately 130 children who were never seen again. Historians believe they were plague victims and the piper represented death. Some theorize that an immortal demonic creature was responsible.

There have been other famous disappearances such as the colony of Roanoke, which vanished in 1588 from what is now known as the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Several screenplays and novels have been written, such as Stephen King's The Storm of the Century and Dean Koontz's Phantoms, that describe an evil creature that was responsible for this mysterious event. My internet research revealed that similar disappearances continue to this day. For example, in November 1930, 2,000 residents of an Eskimo village at the shores of Lake Anjikuni in northern Canada disappeared. Stranger still was the fact that all their ancestral graves had been dug up and emptied of their corpses.

In The Piper, Lynn Hightower also explores the supernatural phenomenon of the bereaved receiving phone calls and text messages from dead loved ones. This occurs several times throughout the novel. Modern ghosts and spirits must be getting more tech savvy. Even I don't have texting on my iPhone's plan. I'd like to know what kind of plan they are on. Does AT&T have cell phone towers in Hell? No wonder victims of this phenomenon complain of poor reception. However, the idea of receiving phone calls from the dead is no more implausible than that of a dripping wet, decaying girl who crawls out of someone's television a week after they have seen her cursed video (The Ring).

As stated earlier, the setting is Knoxville, smack in the middle of the Bible Belt and a few hours from the country music capital of the world, Nashville. I was raised around Knoxville. I even graduated from U.T. and have driven on Kingston Pike, admiring the beautiful old homes that line this popular thoroughfare that also has plenty of nice restaurants and strip malls. Reading The Piper made me homesick. I was nearly lured back to Knoxville myself. It is a pleasant city. I have to agree with Olivia. While growing up, she, like myself, couldn't wait to leave Knoxville; however, being away for so many years made us both appreciate returning home.

Unlike Olivia and her police officer boyfriend, Vince Modello, a former football player for UT, my blood does not run deep orange. In fact, I managed to graduate without ever attending one football game. That in itself is a supernatural phenomenon. One might find it difficult to believe that Knoxville would be the setting of a horror novel. However, only a few hours away, in Louisville, Kentucky, is the enormous, castle-like Waverly Hills Sanatorium, which is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the world; within its stone walls, thousands died of tuberculosis. Because of the pain and suffering endured there, evil forces are drawn to it like forest animals to a watering hole. This is where Olivia must confront the creature that has terrorized her family for decades.

A likeable heroine, plenty of gruesome deaths, a creepy house and strange apparitions make The Piper a fast-paced read, especially when enjoyed on a cold winter night. Unfortunately, the ending was too happy for me. I prefer horror novels and films to be like they were in the sixties and seventies when they had open endings that were downbeat, shocking and gruesome--the type that sent chills down your spine and made you question the safety and security of the world around you. Remember the endings for such classics as Rosemary's Baby, The Omega Man, Race with the Devil, The Wicker Man (1973) and The Brotherhood of Satan. Nevertheless, The Piper is recommended for fans of modern horror.

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