Title: The Skull Ring
Author: Scott Nicholson
Number of Pages: 160 (PDF)
Summary: Julia Stone will remember, even if it kills her. Many years after the night her father disappeared, a night of chants, pain, and strangers in robes, the past follows Julia tot he North Carolina mountains when a mysterious silver skull ring makes her the focus of a shadowy, sinister cult. Walter, a local handyman, tries to help her, but he has his own secrets. And the ring is closing in…
Price: $1.99 – $14.95, depending on format
Author Bio: Scott Nicholson is the author of seven novels, including The Skull Ring and The Red Church. He’s also written more than 60 short stories, most of which are collected in Flowers, Ashes, and The First. He’s written six screenplays and several comic book series, including Dirt and Grave Conditions. Nicholson is also a freelance editor and operates the interactive writing manual Write Good or Die. His Web site is www.hauntedcomputer.com and his blogs are at http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com and http://writegoodordie.com.
Julia Stone’s locked door is unlocked. Wood blocks spelling out her nickname are on her coffee table. Her digital clock is stuck on the same time; 4:06. Her shut window is wide open. Eyes stare at her from the darkness outside. Someone is obviously trying to gaslight her. Or maybe she’s just crazy. After years of therapy, Julia is having trouble distinguishing between what’s real and what isn’t. And she doesn’t know whom to trust. Her therapist who’s trying to help rid her of panic attacks? The local handyman who keeps showing up at her door? Her long-time boyfriend who is anxious to get married? Her nosy old neighbor? Or are they all just creeps like the nameless, faceless entities she conjures in her mind?
The Skull Ring is a psychological thriller, one that had me hooked from beginning to end. In fact, I stayed up till 2:00 a.m. reading the last six chapters because I just couldn’t put it down! I particularly liked Julia Stone; she keeps fighting to maintain her sanity, and rather than act like a helpless victim, she uses her background as a reporter to investigate her own past. She’s determined to overcome her panic attacks through therapy rather than drugs, and once she realizes the true character of someone she trusted, she doesn’t hesitate in rejecting him. She has moments of wanting to give in and give up, but she doesn’t. She keeps trying to overcome whatever obstacles are holding her back, whether they be real or imagined.
The Skull Ringis well written, highly suspenseful, and avoids being preachy despite its religious undertones. The ending was fairly satisfying, because I totally believed the methods and motives of some characters; for instance, the sheriff and the therapist. They had vastly different outlooks on how they wanted this story to end, but I believed them both. I liked the idea of a “long con” being played, and I like the idea of one (or more) fanatical true believers in a cult. But I don’t buy big decades-long conspiracies, especially one that leaves mutilated bodies in its wake. No one notices a pattern? Really? I won’t go into any more detail because I want to avoid spoilers. But I was a bit disappointed in some of the concluding reveals.
I also felt a few loose ends were left hanging, such as Julia’s aversion to a barn near her childhood home. She has a horryfiing memory while in the barn, but it’s never clearly explained how she came to have that particular memory. We’re left to our own conclusions about it, but I prefer things more clearly spelled out at the end, especially when the story has us constantly guessing between the reality and fantasy of the main character’s experiences. We also never find out specifically what happened to Julia’s father–we pretty much know what, just not the how and where. I would like to have known. Morbid curiosity, I suppose. And how the heck do you get a digital clock to stay stuck on the same numbers?
But despite my complaints here, I did enjoy the story overall and look forward to reading more from Scott Nicholson. Be sure to read my interview with him.
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