Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: Project 17

Blurb from book:

High atop Hathorne Hill, near Boston, sits Danvers State Hospital. Built in 1878 and closed in 1992, this abandoned mental institution is rumored to be the birthplace of the lobotomy. Locals have long believed the place to be haunted. They tell stories about the unmarked graves in the back, of the cold spots felt throughout the underground tunnels, and of the treasures found inside: patients' personal items like journals, hair combs, and bars of soap, or even their old medical records, left behind by the state for trespassers to view.

On the eve of the hospital's demolition, six teens break in to spend the night and film a movie about their adventures. For Derik, it's an opportunity to win a filmmaking contest and save himself from a future of flipping burgers at his parents' diner. For the others, it's a chance to be on TV, or a night with no parents. But what starts as a playful dare quickly escalates into a frenzy of nightmarish action. Behind the crumbling walls, down every dark passageway, and in each deserted room, they will unravel the mysteries of those who once lived there and the spirits who still might.

I'll confess that when I picked this book up, I had no idea that Danvers State Hospital was a real place.  The thought of breaking into a doomed asylum is creepy enough.  It's even creepier when the place is/was real, and it looks like this:
Could this place get creepier?
 (Photo credits to,,, and any others that might have been mis-credited.)

The story starts off as all horror stories do:  Gang of teenagers get together to do something stupid and/or illegal.  They are a mixed bag of personalities and set both angry and sexy-times sparks off one another.  Then it gets dark and the creepiness factor slips in.

The characters are a mixed bag of personalities and even though they don't seem to be a peas-and-carrots group, it's advertised rather plainly that, ahem, "romance" will happen.  It goes on throughout the book, but these little instalove passages take away from the real point of the book:  The Tragic Creepiness.
Creepy abandoned bed.

As the Scooby Gang explores the premises, more of the history is revealed:  barely-marked graves for the deceased and forgotten patients, horrifying-sounding treatments, young lives that decayed into despair and death.  On top of the human cost (read: waste) of the hospital, there is the tragedy of the impending property destruction of a historical landmark.  Patient's records and forgotten belongings are scattered throughout the building, and when the hospital is flattened, all trace of their lives spent in the overcrowded halls will be lost to posterity forever.  This unavoidable erasure of all these lives gives the narrative some emotional resonance.  All of the protagonists are at a crossroads, each wasting their owns lives voluntarily.

There are a few moments that genuinely made my heart beat faster, but for the most part this book is more shudder- than panic-inducing.  The Shining it is not.

Peeling paint, shattered ceilings and suicide-prevention bars...

All in all, the book gave me a few chills, and made me ponder the lost history of the now-demolished buildings, but I can't say that it's going to stay in my mind as anything particularly special.  Very readable, and a short time commitment.

3 stars!

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