Book Review – Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

A missing pre-teen and a strange-eyed ghost take center stage in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay. (Also introducing a new feature to my reviews – a spoiler section!)

A nightmare begins for Elizabeth Sanderson when her 13 year old son Tommy doesn’t come home one night. His friends claim to know nothing about Tommy’s disappearance into the woods, but when Elizabeth is visited by what appears to be a ghost, it becomes clear that there is much more to the story than the kids are letting on. Things get even stranger when Tommy’s ripped-out diary pages start mysteriously appearing in the living room, giving clues to what really happened that night at Devil’s Rock.

I previously read Head Full of Ghosts by the same author, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. So it was a no-brainer to try his other novel, which sounded like it would have a similar feel. While it did have the same sort of melancholy tone and deep psychological characterization, this one leaned more toward “crime drama” than “supernatural”.

Though there are a few supernatural elements here and there, for the most part this novel is a slow-burn mystery that trickle-feeds information in a way that really builds tension. We get to know Tommy through flashbacks and diary entries, and come to understand how he got in the situation that led to his disappearance. His mother Elizabeth and sister Kate get some good characterization as well, as they struggle to solve the mystery and cope with Tommy’s absence. The climax, like the rest of the book, is quiet and somber.

As for my reaction…though the book was well written, I can’t say I’m glad to have read it. Mainly because it’s kind of depressing. The themes involved are similar to the kind of books they make you read in High School and College, where you end up feeling sad and hopeless about the world and everyone in it. (See spoiler section for specifics.)

The book had a few weird things going on as well. For one thing, the chapter titles were bizarre; things like “Elizabeth talks to Dave, Dinner for Two, Notifications at Night, a Fight, a Sketch“. And sometimes the dialogue would slip into script format…like Bob: “Who’s there?” Rick: “It’s me” instead of regular dialogue tags. It made the book seem a bit unfinished, as if the author jotted these parts down in his first draft and just never changed them to proper prose later.

I also got a bit bored with the boy’s conversations. Is it realistic that pre-teen boys have fifteen page conversations about Minecraft? Absolutely! Do I want to READ fifteen page conversations about Minecraft? Nope. Their slang (“chirps”, “hardo”) is probably realistic too, but it got old fast.

One interesting plot point in the book involved Snapchat. Flash-in-the-pan social media will date the book, but more importantly, it points out the big negativity of Snapchat from a real life crime perspective: the photos disappear after you send them. Not only is this inconvenient (why not use Twitter or Instagram, where the pics stay?), it has obvious ramifications for solving crimes. Having evidence disappear is kind of a problem. I’m hoping that in real life, the company that owns Snapchat has a way to retrieve pics even after the user has deleted them.

Overall, I think this is a decent book, but it’s not as good as Head Full of Ghosts, and it’s a bit depressing. I was hoping for a bit more supernatural content instead of a crime drama.


One big contributor to my uneasy feelings about this book was the character of Arnold. He’s an adult who pals around with pre-teens (possibly the most suggestible period of human life), introduces them to beer, and gets them in big trouble. He’s actually a very well-written character, because he is DEFINITELY realistic. Guys like Arnold exist, and I know because I’ve met them. I grew up poor, and lived most of my childhood in low-income housing. “Arnolds” are all over the place there, and believe me, they are every bit as messed up as the guy in the book. As an added twist, because I’m female I had experiences of adult guys like that hitting on me when I was only 12 or 13 years old. Luckily I knew that was creepy and stayed away from them.

So props to Tremblay for writing a very accurate character! Unfortunately it was SO accurate that it lessened my enjoyment of the book. “Arnolds” suck.


Cover Report: The cover features a photo of bare tree branches, taken at night with a background of dark sky and stars. A tree is part of the story, so the cover makes sense. It’s ok. I give this cover a B-.

Typo Police: One sentence described waves “braking”, when it should be “breaking.”

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