ARC Review: Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie

Book: Episode Thirteen

Author: Craig DiLouie

Pages: 464

Source: Redhook via Orbit books

Publisher: Redhook

Genre: Horror, Paranormal

Publication Date: January 24, 2023

Goodreads Summary:

A ghost-hunting reality TV crew gain unprecedented access to an abandoned and supposedly haunted mansion, which promises a groundbreaking thirteenth episode, but as they uncover the secret history of the house, they learn that “reality” TV might be all too real — in Bram Stoker Award nominated author Craig DiLouie’s latest heart pounding novel of horror and psychological suspense.

Fade to Black
is the newest hit ghost hunting reality TV show. It’s led by husband and wife team Matt and Claire Kirklin and features a dedicated crew of ghost-hunting experts.
Episode Thirteen takes them to Matt’s holy grail: the Paranormal Research Foundation. This crumbling, derelict mansion holds secrets and clues about the bizarre experiments that took place there in the 1970s. It’s also, undoubtedly, haunted, and Matt hopes to use their scientific techniques and high tech gear to prove it.

But, as the house begins to slowly reveal itself to them, proof of an afterlife might not be everything Matt dreamed of.
A story told in broken pieces, in tapes, journals, correspondence, and research files, this is the story of Episode Thirteen — and how everything went horribly wrong.

My Review:

I received an advanced reader copy of Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie from Redhook via Orbit books in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you Redhook and Orbit!

Episode Thirteen is about a ghost hunting crew filming a reality show called Fade to Black.  The team is led by husband-and-wife paranormal investigators Matt and Claire Kirklin.  Together they take a slightly different approach to ghost hunting – what critics deem pseudo-science.  Claire is a scientist, specifically a physicist, and she combs through the data collected by her husband and the rest of the team to find a scientific explanation for any perceived paranormal phenomena. 

Things have been going well for Fade to Black, and Matt finally gets the go-ahead to film at his Holy Grail location – the Foundation House.  This dilapidated Victorian house used to be home to the Paranormal Research Foundation back in the 1960’s until, one day, all the researchers disappeared without a trace.  No one knows what happened to them, and there have been reports from locals of strange lights and sounds in the abandoned house ever since. 

Matt is eager to use his team to figure out whether or not Foundation House is haunted.  He thinks having to manage the members of his team as well as convincing the network the show is worth a second season are the biggest problems he has to deal with.  Foundation House is about to come to life and show Matt and his team how little they know about the paranormal. 

What initially caught my eye about this book is that it’s an epistolary novel.  The entire story is told through the team member’s journal entries, hot sheet emails, descriptive raw footage transcripts, and similar artifacts.  I am a sucker for a good epistolary novel.  Plus, this book appealed to my love of ghost hunting shows and ghost stories as well.  I knew I needed to read it.

The members of the Fade to Black team are Matt Kirklin, the lead investigator and heart of the team, Claire Kirklin, the resident scientist and skeptic, Jessica Valenza, the actress hired by the producers to round out the team personalities for TV, Jake Wolffson, the cameraman, and Kevin Linscott, a former police officer who takes care of setting up the tech equipment and runs base camp during investigations.  I really enjoyed reading each team member’s journal entries throughout the story. 

The journal entries were the author’s chance to deeply develop each of these characters, and it resulted in all of them being complex and believable.  Matt is almost fanatic in his need to discover what happens after we die, and he is only equally fanatic about one thing – his love for his wife.  Claire, on the other hand, loves her husband enough to help him with the show and his investigations, but she’s beginning to feel stifled by the lack of scientific challenge involved in her job.  Jessica is hoping that the show does well enough for her to make her big break in acting.  She hopes moving forward in her career will help give her four-year-old son a better life.  Jake sees himself as removed from the group, and his job is to always keep an eye on the action and to be “the fly on the wall.”  Finally, Kevin thinks the show’s scientific approach is all wrong, and he believes he is the best investigator the team has due to his experience as a police officer.

All of these conflicting inner struggles are revealed in the journal entries and in how each team member interacts with the others.  As the stresses of the investigation and subsequent paranormal activity amp up, so do the conflicts within the group.  It was a really fascinating way to approach a horror story, and it was my favorite part of the book. 

Taking the time to really develop each of the characters made me care about what happened to them.  It also helped me as the reader understand what motivated them to act a certain way or to say certain things.  Even if during parts of the story I was screaming in my head, “What the heck did they do that for?!” I really knew the answers thanks to those journal entries.

Another little tidbit I liked about the story was its self-awareness.  Several times characters mention “horror movie rules” like they know what they’re doing might not be smart.  It doesn’t always influence their behavior in the long run, but I thought it was a nice bit of comic relief.  It’s like the story and characters know how unreal what they’re experiencing is and what they should be doing is thinking about their survival.  Unfortunately, peer pressure and fear and many other motivations can affect our judgement in the heat of the moment, which is what happens to some of the characters.

All in all, I really loved this book.  I started it randomly Saturday night because I just needed something different from the fantasy I had been reading.  I quickly read 100 pages Saturday and finished the rest on Sunday.  I just could not put it down!

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I gave Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie five out of five stars.  The slow, creeping horror of the story and the complex, well-developed characters were highlights of this book.  I also really enjoyed the unique structure of the story due to it being an epistolary novel.  I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys psychological horror and ghost stories, and anyone who reads the horror genre should give this book a shot!

Do you like to read horror novels? Do you plan to give this one a try?  Let me know in the comments!

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