Lois Duncan was probably,one of the most influential y/a writers of the twentieth century. I know of several women crime writers today who consider her an influence; and there are probably dozens more than I don’t know about. I didn’t read Duncan when I was a teenager, but discovered her, ironically, when her novel I Know What You Did Last Summer was turned into a film in the 1990’s. (I say “ironically” because Duncan hated the film; they turned her mystery novel into a slasher picture, and she was unequivocal in her disdain for the film. One of the things I liked about Duncan was she didn’t mince words and was rather salty.) I got to meet her when she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and her on-stage interview by the incomparable Laura Lippman was a highlight of that Edgar Week for me.
I read another one of her books this weekend, for Halloween Horror Month: Gallows Hill.
The first time Sarah Zoltanne saw Eric Garrett, he was standing out by the flagpole in front of the school talking with a group of friends. Backlit as he was by the afternoon sunlight, everything about him seemed painted in gold–his hair, his skin, and, as far as she could tell from where she stood some distance away at the top of the cement steps,it even appeared that he might have golden eyes. In her literature class back in California she had done a unit on mythology, and the image that immediately leaped into her mind was Apollo.
Great opening, right?
Lois Duncan saw herself as more of a suspense writer than a horror writer; and it was only in a few of her novels for young adults that she crossed the line into the supernatural. Gallows Hill, despite it’s cover, doesn’t have anything to do with witches and/or withcraft in any way other than it’s kind of tied to the Salem witch trials, and that makes it a reincarnation novel; a book about karmic retribution and karmic debt than witchcraft; it’s kind of like Crowhaven Farm that way. Sarah herself has a bit of psychic ability; to look into a paperweight that had belonged to her grandmother (who may have been eastern European; Sarah is often described as looking like a Gypsy) and see things she shouldn’t be able to see. She also has troubling dreams about the past–not her own past, but centuries ago past.
The reincarnation theme tied to Salem and its witch trials has been used before, not only in Crowhaven Farm but in a really terrific novel I read in either the 1980’s or 1990’s called Salem’s Children by Mary Leader (who also wrote a terrific novel called Triad that I read in the 1970’s and loved), which was about the descendants of the people involved in the Salem witch trials and reincarnation (great, now I want to read both of those novels again); I remember the main character’s name was Submit, which struck me as odd at the time.
I really enjoyed Gallows Hill, but I wish it would have been longer, and gone into some of the plot points and the characters, as well as the theme of reincarnation, a little more.
Interesting that I am always drawn to reincarnation stories.