Publication Date: 17th September 2016
REVIEWED BY CHAD
A copy of Salpsan was sent to Confessions of a Reviewer by the author, Robert Essig, in exchange for an honest review. This is said review. This book is self-published.
I have had to pause and reflect on this book because it took me a little while to pinpoint and articulate why it doesn’t completely work for me. On one hand, I think there is a lot of potential here but on the other I can’t really ignore the fact that much of the story fell a little bit flat (in my opinion), not necessarily in the execution of the prose that’s on the page but rather because of the choices made with the narrative itself.
This has quite a few good things going for it which I think could have been the foundation for a really great book. To start off with, the premise is good. The main character is a former nurse who has been called out of retirement to provide care for a private patient. This nurse was forced to leave her profession due to a personal scandal which happens at some indeterminate point before the book starts. So naturally she jumps at the opportunity to provide the care, which she legally is no longer allowed to do.
Immediately, it is clear that there is nothing normal about her patient as she is shuttled into an expansive estate in rural Spain, staffed by a handful of people who are tight-lipped, and evasive, whenever she tries to obtain information about the person she is caring for.
The nature of her patient is an intriguing mystery and the eventual revelation of his identity proves to be a nice little twist to the story. The direction that the narrative goes from there provides some wonderfully creepy and intense moments, dipping in to some extreme description that I thought Essig handled with a great deal of skill.
As I indicated before, I think the writing itself in the story is good. The description and flow of language works really well and the dialogue for all the characters is well done. The physical components of the story are not necessarily an issue for me as much of the breadth of the story itself.
Ultimately for me, while I think the concept is really cool, I don’t think Essig gave enough physical space for the story to really stretch out its legs. There is a fair amount that seems to take place before we are even introduced to the main narrative. And while I don’t necessarily have a problem with expository storytelling, I think this particular book could have been made stronger by actually including those elements in the story itself.
The main character, comes into the story as a sort of disgraced figure in her professional field. And while the story makes it very clear why she has achieved this level of disregard, I would have preferred to have seen these moments as a part of the narrative as opposed to simply being told that they happened. The unfortunate result of the story being layered in this way is that I don’t feel particularly attached to the character. What should have been a fairly deep emotional character hands up falling somewhat flat for me as I feel like I never really fully understand her point of view or her perspective. I think that if we had been allowed to take more of that journey with her, her role in the story would have felt more powerful.
And then there’s the patient himself. When the nature of his identity is revealed, a certain amount of information is passed along regarding what has been going on at this house and what has brought this thing into being. What could have been a creepy and effective story twist ends up being reduced down into flashes and moments of telling and again I don’t get the amount of dread and fear from this character that I think could potentially be there. There are also intense moments of near sexual assault throughout the story that added some tension but I felt wasn’t really used as effectively as it could have been.
The problem I see inherent throughout the book is that while we get flashes of great moments and points in the plot which could be really great, I just wish we could have had more. It seems like a significant part of the narrative is either quickly rehashed in flashbacks or is simply told to me as part of the pre-existing information of the story. There still are some good scenes, I just felt like a large portion of the book seemed a little dry and flat. So, when I reach the end, what should have been a cool, climactic moment ends up being a bit subdued for me.
There are still enjoyable elements to the story, I don’t want to give the impression that I just outright didn’t like the book. It still is an interesting read and I hope that my criticism here is taken for what I’m intending, as places where I think a good story could have been made even better. All of this is completely subjective and every reader is going to come down differently in terms of what their expectations are and what they want from any given story. All I can tell you is my own perspective on this and what I was hoping to find when I cracked open the cover to page one of this book. I enjoy short-form horror stories and I think Robert Essig clearly has some chops. This is a quick, entertaining book. It’s just that I think the length of the narrative ends up restraining the story somewhat from higher levels of greatness.
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She lives to help the sick, but will she help a monster?
Marion Fleicher has been stripped of her nursing license and ostracized in her homeland for an act of sheer compassion. Desperate to help the sick and infirmed, and struggling on a fixed income, she takes a job as a private nurse. She finds herself in the Spanish countryside at the door to a dilapidated old house wondering if she’s made a mistake. Behind the door is a motley trio: a servant-man who is as shady as a shadow and sneaky as an imp, Terrance Adler, Marion’s ambiguous employer, and her patient, who is in desperate need of a doctor. Will she be able to help her patient or will she die trying?
“Robert Essig has crafted one creepy-as-hell tale of modern gothic horror that sets an ominous tone from the first few words and never lets up. Told from the POV of an unconventional narrator with secrets of her own, Salpsan is a dark, dark story that will prove you wrong several times when you think you know where it’s going. I enjoyed it immensely, and can’t wait to read more from this writer!” — James Newman (author of Odd Man Out, Animosity, and Ugly As Sin)
“With Salpsan, Essig takes you on a twisted journey through the Spanish hillside; one full of intrigue, memorable characters and hellish encounters. This is a story that will stick with you, long after turning the last page. –K. Trap Jones, author of The Charm Hunter, The Sinner and The Harvester.
Robert Essig is the author of Brothers in Blood, In Black, Salpsan, People of the Ethereal Realm, and Through the In Between, Hell Awaits. In addition, he has published over 80 short stories, several novellas, and numerous book reviews.
Robert lives in Southern California with his wife and son.
And for more about Robert, visit his site, or find him on social media: