The Curse of Braddock Mansion begins as Natalie and her history professor husband, Evan, are quickly uprooted from their lives after Evan accepts a position to teach at a University in Atlanta. Exhausted from the seemingly fruitless search for an apartment, Natalie sparks fate when she sees a vacancy sign hanging on the gate of a gorgeous pre-war mansion. Laurel, a strict southern matriarch, her teenage daughter Charlotte, and their family with roots in the house going back generations welcome their new tenants. Our young couple soon realizes that the delicately illustrated wallpapered walls hold sinister secrets, and once they envelop you, it may be more dangerous to walk out of Braddock Mansion than to stay in.
Author Augustine Pierce has a great grasp on imagery, and many of the scenes in Braddock Mansion are described in such a way as to visibly compel you to keep reading. The opening scene in a dark and rainy motel is narrated such that I felt a film adaptation by Michael Flanagan could follow the scene shot for shot. It was chilling and I had hoped to find more of this horror finesse within the rest of the novel, but instead I found a quizzical family drama with a suspenseful Nancy Drew adventure towards the end.
As a reader I hardly found any dull moments; the pacing of the chapters kept me engaged. The biggest struggle was narrative shifts between the main character Natalie and other members of the house. Each time something important happened that Natalie was not directly involved in, the narrative shifted so that we the reader would be an eyewitness; a cheap trick. I would much rather we play in the dramatic irony of finding the answers with our leading lady, especially when the most invigorating parts of the novel are when she is sneaking around the mansion actively trying to solve the mystery. This isn’t to say that everything was let out of the bag prematurely, just an air of redundancy when Natalie works a whole chapter in search of a revelation we already knew.
Natalie’s backstory is a missed opportunity. Natalie, a registered nurse and English tutor, ends up helping the young homeschooled Charlotte with her studies; though the fact that she is a nurse has very little to do with the narrative at all, and her English tutoring seems like a tacked-on trait to allow her an excuse to spend time with Charlotte. Her history professor husband is able to point out significant clues in the house that inform her investigation, though I wonder if this would be stronger if Natalie had a historical or investigative background herself. Natalie is consistently remarking to herself that Charlotte reminds her of her late sister, and the immediate bond formed between them is stronger than the homework excuse, rendering it useless.
The mystery of Braddock Mansion is strong, though not entirely airtight. The conclusion left me with questions about the logistics, and even more so about choices made in the narrative that didn’t have the payoff I was looking for. Pierce makes up for this with vivid scenes of action. He plays with common tropes of haunted mansions and masterfully adjusts them to fit at Braddock Mansion, which leaves the gothic horror reader both comforted and creeped out.
The Curse of Braddock Mansion weaves lore from a family’s past into the unassuming present of Natalie and Evan. Though not a remarkable tale, the novel will entertain and transport you and should be commended for that. A classic tale of a haunted mansion, with some excellent scenes of violence and family tension, will grab you by the throat from beginning to end.
Rating 7 out of 10 Dead Children