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Dark House

Dark House

3.6 5
by John Sedgwick

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"Don't you ever wonder about them —
the people around you?"

Who are they, the strangers you pass, the strangers who pass you, at the supermarket, at the mall, on the road? Take that dark Nissan in your rearview mirror. Just another pair of headlights on your stretch of highway, you think.

Now indulge your imagination. Who is he? Where


"Don't you ever wonder about them —
the people around you?"

Who are they, the strangers you pass, the strangers who pass you, at the supermarket, at the mall, on the road? Take that dark Nissan in your rearview mirror. Just another pair of headlights on your stretch of highway, you think.

Now indulge your imagination. Who is he? Where is he headed? A traveling salesman, you'd guess, or maybe a suburbanite going home to his family after a long day at the office. After all, you and he are just a random pair of commuters whose lives have momentarily converged — right?

You adjust your mirror.

He's still there — a lone male, late thirties. Rather handsome, acutally. And his eyes are on you. And his eyes are on you. And they stay on you...

Meet Edward Rollins, scion of one of Boston's more notable families. Securely yet unhappily employed at one of the city's finest investment houses, he is a man of means — and of secrets. What began as a lark, a way of unwinding, has become for Rollins an obsession. Each night, armed with a hand-held tape recorder, he randomly picks a car and follows it to a destination, cataloging the habits and peculiarities of its driver, imagining from those details the sort of life that might have been his.

But one night changes everything. Trailing a car to a remote suburb, Rollins follows it to a mystery involving a vanished heiress, a mystery to which he unwittingly holds the key. In his desperate isolation, he turns to Marj Simmons, a young colleague he barely knows. To find the truth, they must unlock the secrets of Rollins's own past — a search that could free him from his own dark house of despair.

A harrowing, tension-riddled literary thriller that echoes the storytelling power of Frederick Busch and Ian McEwan, The Dark House heralds the arrival of a major talent.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
The Dark House represents the best of what we at Discover seek to do: uncover literary surprises from unexpected sources. Although the program doesn't generally include more commercially oriented suspense thrillers, we found The Dark House so unique and absorbing, it was unimaginable for us to exclude this spellbinding story of obsession, greed and redemption from our summer recommendations.

In this gripping debut, John Sedgwick takes readers on a haunting psychological voyage. Beginning one night in front of a dark house outside Boston, we meet Edward Rollins. Handsome and monied, but at only 37, plagued by the lack of his own accomplishment, Rollins finds himself tormented by unsettling childhood memories. Though Rollins has taken to randomly following cars to their homes at night, the real window he seeks to peer into is much closer to his own heart, involving the disappearance of a beautiful and talented cousin.

Through his relentless pursuit of the truth, secrets long interred are painfully exposed, ultimately forcing his mother into a brutal and cathartic confession, and forcing an elemental showdown between Rollins and his long-estranged father in another dark house in Vermont.

Much more than a mystery, Sedgwick's compelling debut is an exploration of family and the strength of familial connections.

Barnes & Noble.com Reviews The Dark House

We can now add John Sedgwick's name to the growing list of gifted young writers who have entered the suspense field in recent months. Sedgwick's debut, The Dark House, is a complex, immensely readable book that brings to mind another memorable debut: Peter Moore Smith's recently published Raveling. Like Raveling, The Dark House is a novel about the lingering aftermath of an unexplained disappearance. Like Raveling, it is also an account of a family undone by secrets and lies, and by the indelible memory of a senseless domestic tragedy.

The central figure of The Dark House -- and, eventually, its hero -- is Edward Rollins, an eccentric, modestly wealthy member of an upper crust New England family who has a peculiar -- and dangerous -- hobby. Rollins is, in effect, a voyeur, a benign, non-predatory observer who compulsively follows randomly selected motorists, collecting glimpses of their private lives, and recording his impressions on tapes that constitute an ongoing record of his one-sided encounters with the outside world. These encounters are Rollins's way of connecting with that world. They provide him with a kind of second-hand life, and allow him to exist on his own chosen terms: as "a vacancy, a being without substance or history, drifting through other people's lives."

As the narrative begins, Rollins is engaged in what he believes is one more randomly chosen "pursuit." He follows his quarry -- a gaunt, insurance salesman-type in a late model Audi -- to the eponymous "dark house" somewhere north of Boston. The gaunt man then enters the house -- which appears to be deserted -- and remains inside for several hours, but never turns on the lights. Disproportionately intrigued by this unusual behavior, Rollins breaks two of his most fundamental rules. He tells the story of his nocturnal adventure to an attractive co-worker named Marj Simmons, and then returns to the house, accompanied by Marj, on the following night. Although he doesn't know this at the time, Rollins's decision to indulge his curiosity will alter the conditions of his life, leading him, in time, to an unplanned confrontation with the buried secrets of his -- and his family's -- troubled past.

To begin with, Rollins learns that his chosen quarry may, in fact, have chosen him, seducing him into what only appears to be a "random" pursuit. Subsequent encounters -- with the driver of the Audi, and with a shady real estate agent named Jerry Sloan -- and subsequent research into the recent history of the dark house reveal unexpected connections to the unsolved mysteries -- and central tragedies -- of the supremely dysfunctional Rollins family. Included among them are the facts behind the traumatic divorce of Rollins's parents; the long suppressed story of the accidental drowning of Stephanie Rollins, Edward's younger sister; and the unresolved disappearance of Cornelia (Neely) Blanchard, Edward's cousin, friend, and former babysitter.

As the narrative progresses, the story of Neely Blanchard -- who disappeared without a trace some seven years before -- becomes the dominant thread in a complex web of interconnected histories, each of which serves to illuminate the others. Illumination is, in fact, both the central theme and primary objective of this cumulatively compelling narrative. As Rollins investigates the mysteries surrounding the dark, deserted house, he gradually illuminates the true story behind Neely's disappearance. Along the way, he confronts the forces that have turned him into a lonely, detached outsider, and begins the process of reconnecting with the everyday human world.

The result of all this is a satisfying and substantial novel that occasionally succumbs to implausibility and melodramatic excess. For the most part, though, The Dark House works both as a psychological drama and as a literate, suspenseful thriller. John Sedgwick -- who is, by the way, a member of the same family that produced film star Kyra Sedgwick and Warhol icon Edie Sedgwick -- is a welcome new discovery, a gifted storyteller who has something to say about the subterranean forces that shape -- and warp -- the human personality. At its frequent best, The Dark House offers many pleasures and a few surprises, and marks the arrival of an ambitious, potentially significant new writer. I'll be watching his future development with considerable interest.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.33(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Eleven thirty-eight P.M.," Rollins said quietly into the tiny Panasonic in his palm. "North on 93, just past Exit 32. The Audi's two cars up, holding steady at" -- he glanced down at the speedometer -- "about fifty-seven, fifty-eight miles an hour." The Audi was navy blue, or possibly black, with green-on-white Massachusetts plates. Rollins put the tape recorder down by the newspaper on the passenger seat of his Nissan. As far as he could tell, the Audi was occupied only by the driver, who was thin and fiftyish and had a look of concentration that was unusual for this time of night. Because the man was wearing a suit coat and unfashionable glasses, Rollins at first had guessed banking. Then he spotted an umbrella on the rear dash, and he reconsidered. Insurance? After all, the forecast had said nothing of rain, just the endless steam heat so typical for Boston in late July.

The trees were set well back from the raised highway, opening up a wide night sky. A blurry moon rose through the glass by his left shoulder. Before him, the asphalt gleamed like open water. As Rollins followed along, he knew enough to keep out of the Audi's rearview mirrors, both center and side. He was sensitive that way, almost as if his skin were allergic to another's sight. He stayed well back, and one lane over, to make it clear that he just happened to be traveling this road tonight. His slim hands curled lightly on the wheel, Rollins was ready to move when the Audi moved. It was a kind of dance, Rollins supposed. A dance with a shadow.

On a pursuit, Rollins never flipped on talk radio or whistled, as he might do at other times -- when he was staring at the stockprices floating across the bottom of his computer screen at the office, say, or sitting in the big chair by the phone in his apartment. He didn't want to break the mood of the evening by cutting the white noise that enveloped him. He was comforted by the steady drone of his engine, the wavelike rush of passing cars, the buzz of the tires on the asphalt, the whoosh of humid air from the vents. Inside the Nissan, he felt snug as an astronaut, tidily enclosed in his bubble of glass and steel. But keyed up, too, on the cusp of a new adventure.

Rollins couldn't know where the driver of the Audi had been before their paths first crossed in front of the Mid-Nite Convenient newsstand, with its red awning, in Somerville's Union Square some miles back. The man's past was a blank, and the car bore no SOCCER MOM bumper sticker, no Northeastern University parking pass to help fill out a history. Only his future could be known. So different from the way life generally worked, Rollins mused with a shake of the head. The only thing noteworthy about the Audi's exterior was a slight dent on the housing of the left rear wheel. "The kind of ding you get in a parking lot," he told the recorder. "Nothing major."

In Rollins' experience, people rarely went anywhere just once. Rather, their lives were an endless loop of going, coming back, and going again. Most likely, where the man in the Audi was going was where he had come from. He was returning to his source. By now, Rollins was something of an expert on Boston's greater metropolitan area, its thorough fares, one-way streets and cul-de-sacs. He knew precisely where one town ended and another began; and he grasped the subtle differences between exclusive Wellesley, say, and reclusive Weston, which lay right beside it. And of course, it meant even more to see the exact neighborhood within the town, and still more to see which street.

And what sort of house? A gated estate in Beverly Farms, on Massachusetts's gilded North Shore, where the driveways are a half mile long? Rollins had had a comfortable childhood in a big house on a private road in upper-class Brookline, and he was always on the lookout for one of his own, just to see how that person had managed it. Or would it be a more traditional suburban home -- with a tight yard, neighbors pressing in on either side? Were there kids in the picture? Would a voice call down to him from an upstairs window when Rollins's man came home? If so, would it be accented? With luck, Rollins might spot other revealing details -- some Spanish artwork in the bedroom, or a projection TV in the paneled den, or antique doll furniture arrayed on the living room mantelpiece. Small points, but telling ones to him.

He clicked on the tape recorder again. "Eleven forty-seven. Passing Exit 33, no change in speed." So his subject was not the Exit 33 type after all. That is, not one to take the Fellsway up to Stoneham, with its tract houses, its drab Redstone Shopping Center, its tiny zoo, seventeen baseball fields (Rollins had once passed a slow evening counting them), mediocre schools, three cemeteries, and Empire Bowl-a-drome, so favored by overweight smokers. Likewise exits 34, 35, 36, 37A and B, 38, and 39.

Past Exit 39, however, twenty miles north of Boston, where signs of roadside activity finally started to thin, the Audi signaled for a right turn, its blinker impatient, Germanic. (Rollins could write an interesting monograph on taillights: their flame-colored stripes, circles, dots, and wraparound curves were so much more variable and expressive than those tedious twin orbs of white up front.) After an interval that affirmed his man's deliberate nature, the Audi moved gently to the right lane and slowed to fifty. Rollins, in the far left, eased off the gas and shifted two lanes over. He could feel a film of sweat where his fingers touched the steering wheel. He was closing in...

The Dark House. Copyright © by John Sedgwick. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Dan Wakefield
John Sedgwick's The Dark House is both a stunning psychological novel and a gripping mystery, superbly told.
— (Dan Wakefield, author of Going All the Way)
Jonathan Harr
The Dark House is an engaging first novel, both a mystery and a love story, with a most curious and memorable main character and a plot that twists and turns to a wholly unpredictable end.
— (Jonathan Harr, bestselling author of A Civil Action)
Christopher Tilghman
A masterfully woven tale of obsession, greed and redemption, a wild and spooky ride that offers a glimpse of the human soul both penetrating and poignant.
— (Christopher Tilghman, author of Mason's Retreat)
Jill McCorkle
The Dark House is a chillingly seductive tale--compelling and spellbinding. John Sedgwick has produced a first-rate literary thriller that will hold readers enthralled
— (Jill McCorkle, author of Carolina Moon and Crash Diet)
Robert B. Parker
The Dark House is a compelling story, wonderfully told. John Sedgwick is the real thing.
— (Robert B. Parker, author of Family Honor and Hush Money)

Meet the Author

John Sedgwick is the author of the novels The Dark House and The Education of Mrs. Bemis, and contributes regularly to Newsweek, GQ, and The Atlantic, among other publications. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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The Dark House 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This first novel by Sedgwick is difficult to classify. It combines elements of a mystery, a psychological thriller, and a study of human relationships. From the first page where we are allowed to sit beside Rollins in his nondescript Nissan to the satisfying conclusion of the story, Sedgwick unravels a complex tale which not only sets out to solve the mystery at hand, but also the underlying mystery of Rollins himself. Do yourself a favor and put this one on your Summer/Fall reading list.
Davina Sandoval More than 1 year ago
Can't really explain it, it's jus a genuinely good book that keeps u wanting to read and never stop.It really is a great suspensful story.I love it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first of the book is a long drawn out affair to set the psychological stage; the middle of the book is good reading; and the last third of the book seems to be everyday business as usual reading. I do give the author kuddos writing about such a complex main character.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At first I wondered if I would like this book since Rollins, the main character, why would you care about him? He's rich, snotty, maybe a little creepy. But you know what, you DO care. Slowly he starts to change, thanks (partly) to Marj, the fantastic reluctant girlfriend character--that's really what this book is about, is about how Rollins figures his 'stuff' out and winds up a (genuinely) better person because of it. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There was really nothing new in this story. It was like reading an old Mickey Spillane novel but not quite as good! I seemed to guess what was going to happen next. Nothing suspenseful.