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The Spiral Maze

by Patricia Bow

“Neil woke, rising from darkness to darkness.” Patricia Bow snares us with the first line of her first supernatural thriller in English (several of hers have been published in Germany) and doesn’t shake us loose for another 190 pages.

Thirteen-year-old Neil Gunn and his amiable father come to Amstey, Ontario to dispose of an unusual ancestral home. Neil’s mysterious ancestor Uncle Dexter, the town’s founder, built the house and its snaking spiral maze. Neil awakes that first night to a face outside his window, desperate to communicate something. It’s his long-dead twin who needs Neil to free Charlotte Padgett, an 18-year-old who went missing in the maze almost 150 years ago. Neil recruits a descendant of Charlotte’s, Fleur, and they’re off.

To free Charlotte, the children race through a myriad of symbolic and actual mazes. All of Amstey seems a maze. They get trapped in an evil fun house. Gunn House itself is decorated with maze motifs. And the spiral maze is actually a series of mazes that collapse in on themselves with false centres and hidden entrances. Neil and Fleur finally break through the spiral maze to another world and yet another maze.

The author doles out terror generously but refrains from gratuitous horror. Dexter is a graceful villain. The author’s sure and evocative prose doesn’t waver. She displays a refreshingly firm grip on all her characters, who are all thoughtfully drawn and entirely believable, even when they’re only on the page for a couple of lines. Less confidently realized is the interaction between the two young teenagers. Some needed tension is missing in their relationship. Delving more deeply into Neil’s abject loneliness or his ambivalent feelings towards Fleur might have added more emotional resonance to the final chapters.

Nonetheless, Bow’s story is like a finely rendered Chinese puzzle box. The Spiral Maze is for pre-teens who like to work for their thrills.