The Forgotten Room | Lincoln Child | 2015 | Doubleday | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book
Jeremy Logan, a Yale University academic, is a famous enigmalogist, frequently appearing on magazine covers and on TV discussing his latest mystery, whether it’s Atlantis, an ancient Egyptian curse or the Loch Ness Monster. Now he is recalled to LUX, a science thinktank where Logan worked a decade before (leaving under something of a cloud) that is based within an isolated and old mansion on the shore of Long Island. Willard Strachey, one of their most eminent and respected members of staff, has just killed himself, in full view of CCTV, in the most horrific way. For days before he had acted in the most erratic and uncharacteristic manner, mumbling to himself before finally shouting out to everyone around him, increasingly violent and distressed. Until the day it became too much.
Logan is asked to investigate the reasons for Strachey’s strange change of behaviour. He soon discovers, though, that there are ‘others’. More people have exhibited strong compulsions to self-harm, although, fortunately, for them, these moments have passed. As Logan digs deeper, with the help of Strachey’s research assistant, he discovers that the mystery dates from the time of Strachey’s latest project. As a man deeply interested in historical architecture, Strachey had been asked to help renovate the abandoned West Wing of the great house, working with architects and builders to restore its rooms. But Strachey found one room more forgotten than others, sealed from the rest of the house and with no sign of there ever having been a door or windows. Logan, following in Strachey’s footsteps, finds strange items in the Forgotten Room, a machine, protective suits, but most of all Logan senses something evil. And whatever it is is now loose.
The Forgotten Room is the fourth novel in Lincoln Child’s Jeremy Logan series. While I haven’t read the last, The Third Tomb (it still sits on my shelf), I have read and enjoyed the first two, Deep Storm and Terminal Freeze. Both provided exciting and intriguing escapist fun. In this latest novel, the theme is the American haunted house. LUX’s mansion has a past, it is haunted by its previous occupants, a family that knew little but despair. It is difficult to reach, located by a cliff against which the waves crash. Its mysteries are sealed up behind the walls of its abandoned West Wing. Jeremy Logan is extremely sensitive to the supernatural. He believes in it and he can feel it. When he opens up The Forgotten Room, the reader is ready to be terrified.
It is unfortunate, then, that for this reader at least, The Forgotten Room fails to live up to the potential of its premise and opening chapters. The atmosphere, location and terrible fate of Strachey hooked me instantly but this mood was lost when the mystery begins to take on a more pedestrian and distinctly unglamorous angle. It’s a short novel, at about 300 pages, but at about the halfway point it begins to drag.
Lincoln Child writes well but there were elements that did grate – I particularly didn’t like the moment when Strachey’s research assistant asked Logan if she could hold his hand while he interviewed her as she found she could relate to people better if touching them. This didn’t strike me as at all probable. At one point, Logan is almost chased off the cliff edge by a rogue driver but this is never mentioned again. It hardly bothers him at all. And there are other moments like that which pulled me out of the story. I am more than happy to suspend my sense of disbelief and believe the incredible when I read a mystery thriller but if a character doesn’t feel ‘true’ then that’s a different matter entirely.
This is a novel that uses all of the familiar themes of the haunted house novel, setting the reader up for one thing and then rather disappointing them, at least me, by delivering something else. This, in tandem with the fact that the novel becomes rather dull and slow, losing any sense of fear that its earlier chapters created, means that The Forgotten Room failed to fulfil my criteria of what a mystery thriller should be. First and foremost, it should entertain and thrill, which it didn’t. However, I have read and enjoyed Lincoln Child’s novels in the past and I am sure that I will do so again. I suspect, though, that I shall keep my distance from Jeremy Logan in the future.