The Supernatural Enhancements: Southern Gothic With a European Twist

The Supernatural EnhancementsOh, just what the world needed: another Southern gothic supernatural mystery starring a secret society, an unexpected inheritance, a mute Irish teenager, and a dog named HELP. How predictable.

Just kidding! Edgar Cantero’s The Supernatural Enhancements is many things, none of which could be called predictable. Told in fine epistolary form through journal entries, letters, security camera footage, etc., and with a title taken from an Edith Wharton ghost story, Cantero weaves an edge-of-your-seat spooker, complete with haunted house, that Scooby and Co. could never have unraveled (unless Velma had a hidden knack for advanced cipher-breaking).

Events are set in to motion when our European protagonist, known only as A., receives news he has inherited a Virginia estate from his long-lost and eccentrically hermit-esque cousin…who happens to have died after hurling himself out of a third-floor bedroom window, just as his father did before him.

When, in the history of fiction, has an expansive Southern estate not come with some twisted baggage? Never! And that’s what A. and his companion, Niamh, the aforementioned mute teenager, discover upon taking up residence at Axton House. There’s a disturbing ghost story, small-town rumors of a mysterious yearly gathering, a garden maze of secrets, and a missing butler.

Here, at Axton House, however, the ghosts are secondary to the enigma at the heart of these annual gatherings. The “bourgeois pastime,” as we come to know it, goes deeper than some occult hobbyists or leisured freemasons. It’s, well…unusual. And, as is their way, things (and people) are not what they seem.

In untangling this web of supernatural phenomena and theories on the outskirts of scientific thought, Cantero’s alternative storytelling never misses a beat, even when things get weird, or, weirder than they already were. Much of that is to the credit of his quirky protagonists, whose snappy back-and-forth (via Niamh’s notepad or her nonverbal cues) has both the wit and sincerity of refugees from a Wes Anderson circus train that ran headlong into the churning midnight black locomotive that delivers each new Neil Gaiman book.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, get yourself to a medical professional. But as a little insurance, first set your peepers on this exchange between A. and his psychotherapist.

“An artifact containing…raw feelings unprocessed sights and sounds and pains that the brain interprets—is that too crazy?”

“No. It has existed for thousands of years. It’s called a book.”

The Supernatural Enhancements is a B&N Discover Great New Writers Fall 2014 Pick.