P D Dawson
A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson (Book Review)
Tom Wallace lived an ordinary life, until a chance event awakened psychic abilities he never knew he possessed. Now he's hearing the private thoughts of the people around him-and learning shocking secrets he never wanted to know. But as Tom's existence becomes a waking nightmare, even greater jolts are in store as he becomes the unwilling recipient of a compelling message from beyond the grave!
Tom Wallace is hypnotised by his brother-in-law, Philip, and after that he is never the same again. His mind has altered and he can sense things and see things beyond the everyday normal perception of others. He's not sure what has happened to him and he struggles with his new power. Early on in the story we are treated to some rather vivid, eerie and minimalist description, that pushes all the right buttons and manages to evoke some very strong images. I found Matheson's description of the woman in his living room, late at night, wearing a patterned dress particularly effective. Her ghostly image appears malevolent, and Tom's fear is palpable, and sets, if you like, a stir of echoes through the entire book. It got me hooked to the story and the mystery behind who the woman is, and what it is she wants.
Tom's pregnant wife, Anne, is particularly scared of what it all means, and she turns periodically on Tom, blaming him for what he has brought into the house, causing tension and stress that ultimately makes things even worse for them both. They both begin to worry about little things and Tom is fearful of every slight sound he hears at night. He struggles to sleep and swears he can hear the rustle of her dress, and that if he went downstairs he would see her sitting in the chair, waiting for him. He initially refuses to get help, but eventually gives in and sees a professional, one who believes in psychic abilities and tries to explain Tom's condition, however, things are far more complicated than even Tom realises, and more dangerous too. A secret from the past is trying to makes itself known, but the implications for Tom and his family could have dire consequences.
I found the story to be engrossing initially, and certainly entertaining throughout, however I sensed that the story could have been much shorter than it was. It's not a long book by any means, and there is enough tension to keep interest, however it does feel like a short story made long, as in the action does unwind a little slowly in the middle of the book, and the things that initially scared me, became less so due to the repetition of the seemingly sinister forces. But the last third of the book is solid, even though the plot twist at the end was a little predictable by modern standards. I can imagine it was more effective in '58 when it was first released as a genre bending novel that was both fresh and vibrant.
And so in summary, it lacks the raw edge and timeless vibrancy of I am Legend, yet it still has some very strong characters and is at least initially thrilling, if not a little plodding in the middle. It does make up for things come the end though, when all the pieces come together.