Title: Episode Thirteen
Author: Craig DiLouie
Publication date: January 24, 2023
Length: 467 pages
Source: Review copy via the publisher
A ghost-hunting reality TV crew gain unprecedented access to an abandoned and supposedly haunted mansion, which promises a groundbreaking thirteenth episode, but as they uncover the secret history of the house, they learn that “reality” TV might be all too real — in Bram Stoker Award nominated author Craig DiLouie’s latest heart pounding novel of horror and psychological suspense.
Fade to Black is the newest hit ghost hunting reality TV show. It’s led by husband and wife team Matt and Claire Kirklin and features a dedicated crew of ghost-hunting experts.
Episode Thirteen takes them to Matt’s holy grail: the Paranormal Research Foundation. This crumbling, derelict mansion holds secrets and clues about the bizarre experiments that took place there in the 1970s. It’s also, undoubtedly, haunted, and Matt hopes to use their scientific techniques and high tech gear to prove it.
But, as the house begins to slowly reveal itself to them, proof of an afterlife might not be everything Matt dreamed of.
A story told in broken pieces, in tapes, journals, correspondence, and research files, this is the story of Episode Thirteen — and how everything went horribly wrong.
This book was always going to be a must-read for me. I’ve read Craig DiLouie’s three most recent novels and loved them all (despite how disturbing they all are). Not only that — haunted house + found records + unexplained disappearances = just what I want in a scary book!
In Episode Thirteen, we follow the crew of Fade to Black, a ghost-hunting reality show with a twist that sets it apart. Each episode features examination of a supposed haunting, led by star and true believer Matt Kirklin — but with Matt’s wife Claire Kirklin, a scientist with a Ph.D. in physics, there to debunk every finding and offer explanations for every finding. It’s been a winning formula among fans, but of course the network honchos want bigger excitement and bigger ratings if the show is to get a second season.
As we learn from the outset, something goes terribly wrong during the filming of the show’s 13th episode. Matt and Claire, along with the tech team of Kevin and Jake, plus Jessica, an actress hired by the network to make the show more popularly appealing, investigate Foundation House in Virginia for this episode. Foundation House is infamous for the disappearance of a group of paranormal investigators in the 1970s, who mixed new age mumbo jumbo with startlingly cruel psychological experiments and plenty of hallucinogenic drugs. No answer has ever been found about this group’s fate.
In Episode Thirteen, Matt hopes to capture evidence of the supposed haunting rumored to have taken place in the house — but the crew gets much, much more. As they spend more time in the house, strange events build upon each other, promising a television episode unlike anything ever before seen… but only if they themselves survive.
Told through the crews’ journals, text messages, transcripts of video footage, and other documentation, we follow the events as they unfold. The journals especially give us insight into each character’s inner doubts and fears, what they believe, and what they want. As the book progresses, we see them all become sucked into the paranormal events they’re there to investigate, risking more and more not just for the sake of a TV show, but to pursue the inescapable obsession to find the truth that builds within each characters.
There’s a fascinating creepiness to the way the story unfolds. We learn about events through the various written records, rather than by reading a straight-forward narrative. At first, I found this somewhat distancing — but as the book progresses, the inclusion of the crew’s journals provides the deeper characters insights that might otherwise be missing. In fact, it ends up being a clever device for having an omniscient viewpoint. At various times throughout the book, we’re privy to each character’s private thoughts and doubts, and this greatly expands our understanding of why they act as they do.
Of course, as in any haunted house book, inside I was screaming at the characters as they made one dangerous or foolhardy decision after another. No, don’t go down into the dark well! No, don’t enter the scary tunnel! WHY WOULD YOU DO THESE THINGS? But, this is where obsession comes into play. These characters aren’t stupid. They understand that it would be safer to walk away, but their need to know overrides all elements of caution or common sense.
One of the plot elements that I considered a plot hole throughout the latter half of the book (I won’t say what, because it’s pretty spoilery) gets very neatly resolved right at the end, and it made me appreciate the author’s cleverness all over again.
This is not a good book to read late at night! I wasn’t scared exactly, but the building sense of dread and disaster meant that I couldn’t put the book down — and since my routine is to read in bed before falling asleep, I found myself reluctantly stopping once I realized how late it was, only to be absolutely wide awake and fully alert.
Craig DiLouie writes disturbing, strange books that stay with the reader long after finishing the final pages. Episode Thirteen is no exception. Fascinating even when the sense of nearby doom is nearly overwhelming, and what an ending!! Definitely check it out… but maybe check your fear of darkness and closed spaces before you enter.