In Retro Review: The Supernatural Enhancements

An epistolary novel that covers the supernatural, conspiracies, puzzles, and mysteries in exemplary fashion.

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

Published by Doubleday, 2014. Hardcover of 360 pages at $26.95. Paperback of 368 pages released on July 21, 2015. 

The cover: A gigantic eye looms behind a Gothic mansion that contains the book’s title. There is large yard before the house with a dog on it. Before the house is an intricate gate. The author’s name appears below this gate, while the image itself, which is entirely in black and white, is bordered by the following titles: The Warrior, The Watcher, The Sage, The Genius, The Wizard, The Nobleman, The Mother, The Twins, The Lover, Soul, Bones, The Phoenix, The Oracle, The Fortune, The King, The Monster, The Crab, The Juggernaut, and The God. The jacket art and design was created by Michael J. Windsor. The cover is what compelled me to pick this book up. It’s bizarre, creepy, and filled with so much detail, I had to check it out. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the inside jacket flap, “The following collection of documents detail the events that occurred at Axton House, 1 Axton Road, Point Bless, Virginia. When twentysomething A., a European relative of the prominent Wells family, inherits a beautiful, yet eerie, estate set deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone — including A. himself. After all, he never knew he had a ‘second cousin twice removed’ in America, much less that his eccentric relative recently committed suicide by jumping out of his third-floor bedroom window — at the same age and in the same fashion as his father had before him…With his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage punk girl from Ireland, A. arrives in Virginia and quickly comes to feel as if he has inherited much more than a rambling home and an opulent lifestyle. Axton House is haunted…A. and Niamh know it…but the presence of a ghost is just the first in a series of disturbing secrets they slowly uncover. What led to the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze — and what does the basement vault keep? Even more troubling, what of the rumors in town about a mysterious yearly gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?” I enjoy mysteries, the supernatural, and conspiracies, so I’m completely on board for what this could bring. Overall grade: A

The characters: A. is a twenty-three year-old who can’t leave a puzzle alone, and Axton House is filled with them. His name is never revealed, nor is it needed, in this tale. After he begins to live in the house he encounters a ghost, has disturbing dreams — that were similar to the suicidal Ambrose Wells, and relishes that nothing in his new life is normal. He is fiercely loyal to Niamh, with the question of their being friends always dangled before the reader, and she is the perfect foil to him. She keeps notes of everything that happens to her, so the reader receives several texts from her that resemble a play. She is the more cautious of the protagonists and also the first to leap in judgment about someone. After an incident, the pair get a dog they name Help and the canine is useful in several situations. Glew is Wells’s lawyer that the young leads deal with in all aspects of the house, and he fields claims to home by other individuals. Mark Strückner is Wells’s butler that disappeared soon after his master committed suicide and he does make an appearance, providing answers to events, as well as creating new questions. Curtis Knox, a man in his forties that A. believes looks like Jeremy Irons, was a friend to Wells, and calls on the new homeowners early, asking many questions. There are several other characters in the novel, but to state anything about them would spoil parts of the book. Due to the way the book is written, as an epistolary, which I’ve not encountered any other writer attempting, save Bram Stoker with his iconic Dracula, these characters are fleshed out from several different points of view and that makes each highly engaging. Overall grade: A+

The settings: Axton House is everything one could want in this type of novel. Gigantic is an insufficient adjective to describe its size. There is a library containing an immeasurable number of books, a dining room so large that characters have to raise their voices so that those on the far end can hear them, and several secret rooms. There is a maze outside the house that factors in the story, naturally. Point Bless is also in several chapters, being a quiet little town where everyone knows everyone else, or they think that they do. There is a diner where the characters often meet with others, as well as a hardware store that captures proceedings on video. It is impressive that author Cantero can create such vivid descriptions of these settings using documents and notes, rather than through dialogue and narration of fictional novels. Overall grade: A

The action: There is tension of every variety in this novel: puzzles, secrets in rooms, burglars, ghosts, and characters whose trustworthiness is questioned. The novel does build to a slam-bang conclusion that is violent, but given the clues leading up to it, expected. Just as one problem is solved, another appears, furthering the plot and increasing tension. I enjoyed the psychological action and the physical action. A good mix that created an enjoyable read. Overall grade: A

The conclusion: A very satisfactory conclusion, though more violent than I’d expected. All plot lines are wrapped up, with the epilogue revealing the final mystery of the book. Extremely satisfying. Overall grade: A

The final line: An epistolary novel that covers the supernatural, conspiracies, puzzles, and mysteries in exemplary fashion. Once I started, I could not stop. If you are looking for something different with twist, you’ll enjoy this book. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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