Reviews by L. J. Roberts

DEBORAH GRABIEN – New Slain Knight. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, hardcover, November 2007.

Genre:   Paranormal/Suspense. Leading characters:  Ringan Laine/Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes; 5th in “Haunted Ballad” series. Setting:   England.

First Sentence:   In the large upstairs room at the pub called the Duke of Cornwall’s Own, a local band, the Tin Miners were playing to an enthusiastic audience.


   Traditional musician Rupert “Ringan” Laine and theater producer Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes are looking forward to a rare vacation off together. Plans change when Ringan’s sister, whose mother-in-law needs her, asks to send him her 14-year-old daughter, Rebecca, a violin prodigy.

   Staying with Gowan, a musician friend in Cornwall, seemed like a good idea until Penny has a vision of a man dying and Becca starts sleep-walking. What are the forces from the past and beyond the grave influencing these two women?

   Books that include a cast of characters and a map are such a treat. It is even better that Ms. Grabien’s characters are so distinct and strong that I didn’t need reminding of them, but it’s still a lovely thing to have.

   The recurring characters of Ringlan and Penny are now old friends to me, but the author doesn’t assume they are known to every reader. New readers will have no problem learning who they are and uncovering their backstory. I think this is an important thing for an author to do.

   The new characters are interesting, and fully dimensional. There is one character, Gowan, you start by liking but the shine dims a bit; for another, Lucy, the reverse is true. It is very well done. Lucy is a particularly interesting character as she is a researcher and a true skeptic — something you don’t usually see in a book with paranormal elements. She is very believable and adds the perfect balance to the story.

   Ms. Grabian’s powers of description not only create a sense of place by showing us around Cornwall, but provided us a sense of the characters through their personal environments. When including old documents, I appreciate her leaving them in the appropriate Old English and Victorian spelling and grammar. She trusts the ability of her audience, which is wonderful.

   Each of Ms. Grabian’s “Haunted Ballad” books is based on an actual old ballad, with a verse from the ballad at the beginning of each chapter. From that, she constructs a story each with a unique use of the paranormal element and a solidly constructed plot. Just when you think you’ve found a hole, she closes it.

   The characters ask the questions you mentally ask, and she answers them. The tension and suspense increase at a steady rate but without ever crossing over into graphic horror. The result is even more frightening than if she had, and then she adds excellent twists.

   I thoroughly enjoyed this book and closed it without identifying any flaws in its construction. The only question for potential readers is whether they enjoy books with a paranormal theme. If the answer is yes, I highly recommend New Slain Knight.

Rating:   Excellent.

    The “Haunted Ballad” mystery series —

1. The Weaver and the Factory Maid (2003)
2. The Famous Flower of Serving Men (2004)
3. Matty Groves (2005)
4. Cruel Sister (2006)    [Reviewed here.]
5. New Slain Knight (2007)