“Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone,” By Stefan Kiesbye
c.2012, Penguin, $15
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
When you were young, you couldn’t wait to escape.
Your old hometown was boring. It was tiny, closed-in, stifling and stiff. Everybody knew everybody’s business – and if they didn’t, well, wait five minutes.
It was a one-horse town with one stoplight. It was the least interesting place you could ever imagine. You couldn’t wait to leave and move far away.
And in the new book “Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone” by Stefan Kiesbye, four former friends should’ve gone while they had the chance.
The Big House, which stood just beyond the edge of the small village of Hemmersmoor, was once elegant and imposing.
Its owners, the von Kamphoff family, liked it that way. They used their money and prestige wisely and kept themselves distant from villagers. Their gardens were tended by hired hands. There was a maze behind the huge mansion.
And there were rumors.
By the time Anke von Kamphoff died, however, The Big House had fallen into disrepair so Alek Frick purchased it, intending to restore the mansion to its former grandeur for use as a hotel. Alek’s old friend, Martin Schurholz wasn’t sure that was a good idea, though, because the place held old ghosts – and after the funeral, after Anke’s childhood friend, Linde Janeke, had finished desecrating Anke’s grave, the house’s grounds seemed even more foreboding.
Or maybe the vileness came from the German village of Hemmersmoor itself.
Hemmersmoor was where little boys suffocated their sisters to own their souls, or taunted others with deadly dares. It was where a crazy woman could scream about nine dead child-spirits, and where nine tiny skeletons could be found beneath a local matron’s rosebushes. It was a place of curses and omens, where lies could ultimately ruin a girl’s future and her face.
There, the old mill was irresistible to children playing violent games of pretend. There, men made a living in the muck of peat bogs. Within its borders, poor women were beaten to death, along with their children, and their house burned.
And Hemmersmoor was where the baker’s son discovered a secret village behind the village, filled with buildings that everyone knew were there...
Looking for a jump-and-scream fright for your Halloween pleasure? It’s not here. “Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone” is more subtle than that.
Starting with a shocker at a gravesite, author Stefan Kiesbye layers on the squirminess thinly and slowly. His story stretches through the childhoods of five young people who each hold terrible secrets about which the others seem to know, culminating in an ending that, well, all I can say without ruining the story is to keep your eyes open.
Then again – with a book as taut as this one, you might not be able to close them.
So when the wind howls this Halloween and there’s a scratching at the window, grab this book and make yourself uncomfortable. For chill-lovers like you, “Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone” is a tale you can’t escape from.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is a book lover who has been reviewing books professionally for more than a decade. She lives in Wisconsin.