They say fiction has nothing on real life, and I believe that statement wholeheartedly. The news has been chocked full of atrocious and horrifying headlines for years, making it an interesting place of source material for horror books and movies. One of the most terrifying concepts to me is cults. When someone is charismatic enough to convince others to carry out the most heinous of acts in the name of some religion, that is truly scary. This premise is the basis behind WITHIN THESE WALLS, a chilling new book by authoress Ania Ahlborn. And although the book is not perfect, it’s very close to being so, and it’s one every horror fan should own.
If you are not familiar with WITHIN THESE WALLS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Gallery Books:
With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.
I remember hearing about Jonestown when I was a kid, and how everybody “drank the Kool-aid” to commit suicide. I was stunned that someone could have so much power over a group of people. This was my first wake-up call to the real world, and it was a harsh one.
WITHIN THESE WALLS is written very well and flows smoothly for the most part. Ahlborn does a skillful job of telling two stories in one: the primary tale is set in modern day Washington state and details Lucas’ plight; the secondary story is set in the 80s and relates what happened to Audra Snow (aka Avis) and how she is connected to Jeffrey Halcomb. I had no problem switching back and forth, and I enjoyed the pace of each as well.
Speaking of the characters, each is fleshed out well and written with a grand dose of realism. In this book, everybody is damaged and these personal demons help accent the physical ones. I like how Ahlborn brings both modern day and past-day people into the mix, sharing with the us the generational nuances that are easily recognizable. This is just one example of her extraordinary talent as a writer.
My sole complaint about the book is that it sometimes becomes bogged down with exposition about what every character is thinking. In most cases, some insight into the thoughts of the characters is fine…however, in this book we get a bit too much of a look inside their heads. Thankfully, this isn’t a huge detractor, and the plot is enthralling enough to keep the story moving.
WITHIN THESE WALLS is a major win for me, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a spine-chilling story that will haunt you after it’s over. The book is available now in a variety of formats.