Cover of 'Unnatural Ends' by Christopher Huang.

While planning this post, I remembered that I had, in fact, written about a Christopher Huang work before. Back in 2013, I was invited to review all the nominees for the previous year’s XYZZY award in the “best implementation category. The list included Huang’s delightful parser adventure Sunday Afternoon, about a bored little boy stuck in his family’s stuffy Victorian mansion, unaware of the grown-up drama unfolding around him.

And now, as I actually set about to write this post, I further recall that he interviewed me about a text adventure game I wrote years before that. What’s more, I pull-quote his own review of that same game on my own webpage about it.

All of which is to say that it didn’t come as a complete surprise to me to receive, as a quite unexpected parcel in the mail, a new and handsome copy of the mystery novel Unnatural Ends by Christopher Huang some weeks back.

Look, okay, I just now dove into my email archive, and I find a forgotten thread from years ago where Chris himself told me that he’d started to write this novel, after which I cheerfully pledged my support through the Inkshares platform. This both confirms my educated guess about how I came to receive this book, and makes me feel slightly embarrassed about writing a public post before sending him a private note. Well, I’ve come this far already, so:

I really loved this book! The blurbs decorating its cover praise it for its adherence to the mode of Agatha Christie, but that’s not really an author or genre I have direct experience with. The nearest touchstones for me include the detective films of Rian Johnson—and Aaron Reed’s Subcutanean, another novel by an IF hobbyist-luminary that shows a particular interest around the exploration of interesting buildings with hidden passageways.

Unnatural Ends presents us with the gruesome but puzzling demise of Lord Linwood, cruel master of a Yorkshire estate and draconian father to three adopted children. Now in their early adulthood after the Great War, the children find themselves drawn back to the place of their shared origin by their father’s bizarre death. But the old mansion has generations-old intrigues marbling its stonework, of course, and it rapidly entangles the three protagonists in a twisted mystery which obsesses them all.

Inevitably, they discover family secrets about themselves, their true parents, and their monstrous adoptive father—secrets far more terrible than the bloody event than summoned them. Ultimately, each must decide whether to bind together to seek justice for past wrongs—or to succumb to their late father’s will, fighting one another for dominance and power.

How exciting! I will now probably spoil which way things go by confiding in you that I found the three principal characters of Unnatural Ends entirely likable and believable, each already gone through enough trials by the novel’s start that they’ve quite thoroughly shaken off their father’s evil influence, even if they begin the story not knowing the half of his depravity. The job lands on them now to bury their father, literally and figuratively—but 400 pages of complications ensue, testing the childrens’ will and humanity at least as much as their intelligence.

I tore through this delicious novel quite quickly. Listen: I read half the book on a plane. I hate reading on planes, right? Or I thought I did! It may be true I get a little better about flying with every trip I take, but sinking so deeply into a novel at 35,000 feet represents a quantum leap against flight-fear that required a truly captivating read, and that’s what I found here.

I recommend this new novel without reservation, and—as I probably always say about novels I adore—I’d love to see it adapted to film or TV, sometime. A period drama with blood and guts and a delightfully diverse main cast! We love those!

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