The Singing Bone, the debut spine-chiller from Beth Hahn, is a concoction of sophistication and surprise. The book takes readers into the heart of the charismatic and sinister Jack Wyck and his cult-like coterie of young followers, presenting an unsparing look at the unsettling power of its manipulative leader.
In the 1970s, a small group of teens fall under Wyck’s spell, and chapters alternate between the young people as we first meet them and some of those same characters 20 years later, after the terrible deeds have long been done. While flashbacks in fiction can often seem superficial or confusing, Hahn has used the technique here with great success, as the cumulative effect of the years becomes clear in her extraordinary telling. As the chilling Wyck holds the group in thrall, little by little readers come to understand the tragic extent of his mesmerizing influence and ability to shape the young minds he holds in an unrelenting grip.
Sometimes hard to read but always riveting in detail and nuance, The Singing Bone begins with 17-year-old Alice Pearson as she falls under Wyck’s spell along with friends Molly, Stover and Trina. They join Wyck’s bizarre household, one that already includes a wily young man named Lee and an enigmatic woman named Allegra—who may be either a victim or an accomplice. They appear to aid Wyck as he unrolls schemes to defraud innocent families whose soldier sons are missing in the Vietnam conflict.
The early years center on issues within the group, as members of the “household” vie for Wyck’s affections and a prime place, literally, in his bed. Horrific evidence begins to surface that Wyck’s deceptions and trickery have been used many times before, with similar tragic consequences. Years later, Wyck’s surviving victims struggle to gain a semblance of normality in their lives, while Wyck sits in prison awaiting parole, still exerting an uncanny ability to control from behind bars.
Near the end, a researcher looking into the past events imagines one person who might “leave the house, abandon Jack Wyck, return to his own life—but he knows that magic doesn’t exist. The images of freedom won’t save the boy.” Hahn’s prose, simple and never overdone, underlines the dramatic and lasting consequences of all that was surrendered.