Book Review: Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Redhooks (January 24, 2023)
Length: 464 pages
Episode Thirteen was my first book by Craig DiLouie, and maybe it’s because I’m a fan of epistolary novels or the fact that I have a strong penchant for found footage horror movies, but I loved it!
Our story begins by introducing readers to husband and wife team Matt and Claire Kirklin who are the stars of Fade to Black, the newest hit ghost hunting reality TV show. Supported by a dedicated crew which includes cameraman Jake Wolfson, head tech guy Kevin Linscott, and actress Jessica Valenza, together they visit so-called haunted houses around the country to capture evidence of paranormal activities or to try to debunk them. Matt, a true believer ever since an eerie experience in his childhood, is keen on trying to prove to the world that ghosts exist, while Claire is like the Scully to his Mulder, using her science background to explain away the unexplainable. While on the surface they may seem like an odd couple, the truth is the two of them are deeply in love, and the audience also eats up their onscreen dynamic.
But in order to keep their ratings up, both Matt and Claire know that Fade to Black is going to need something fresh. Fortunately, the team has just gotten a new lead on a fantastic location. Out in Virginia sits the Foundation House, notorious for its role in the disappearance of five paranormal research scientists back in the early 70s. Ever since then, strange happenings have been recorded at the house, and Matt believes with all his heart that it is haunted. Finally, this was his chance to put his show on the map! But his wife, on the other hand, is not so sure. True to form, she’s not convinced there’s anything wrong with Foundation House aside from its aging infrastructure, but on top of that, she is also starting to question her role on the show.
In fact, all the team members are struggling with some conflict in their lives, with their fates hanging on the success of episode thirteen. Upon their arrival at Foundation House though, it’s clear that they’ve hit the jackpot. The old mansion is everything Matt has ever dreamed of, filled to the brim with paranormal potential and opportunities for killer footage. But as the cameras start rolling, the old mansion delivers more than any of them could have bargained for.
First off, I love haunted house stories, and Episode Thirteen is a very good haunted house story. I always like it when the genre surprises me, and this novel does have a few unique offerings up its sleeve. Its format is perhaps the most obvious thing to come to mind, as the entire plot is presented to us via a series of documents like emails, texts, and other correspondence mixed in with transcripts of filmed footage, journal entries, news articles and more. Through this fascinating lens, even the most usual and common of genre trappings seem to take on a new and different flavor.
I’m also impressed with how much character development was managed through this unconventional approach to storytelling. Using creative methods to reveal everyone’s backstories, we find out how everyone got to be involved with Fade to Black and their motivations for wanting the show to succeed, beyond just doing it for the ratings. In some instances, the various characters’ goals align, while at other times they clash. Neither is everyone as honest as they should be in how they represent themselves to each other and to the reader. The longer they all stay at the house, the more it also starts messing with their minds.
At first, it was the little things—objects being moved, electrical fluctuations, and other anomalies. Soon though, the characters discover the house has a lot more in store, and its powers are beyond anything they can imagine. I wouldn’t say this book scared me, even though it had its moments. But mostly its strengths are in the story’s atmosphere and the fact that it came through so well despite the epistolary style. I also devoured this novel simply because the format was so addictive. Things moved at a quick pace and there were never any lulls, not to mention the plot was just so entertaining.
All told, Episode Thirteen was a fun and gripping read that’s sure to leave a lasting impression. Craig DiLouis masterfully builds an atmosphere of dread and unease throughout the book while also developing his characters into fully fleshed and relatable figures. I really can’t believe it’s taken me this long to finally read one of his books! If you are a horror fan and you love haunted house stories and don’t mind epistolary novels, I highly recommend picking this up.