Comes the Blind Fury, John Saul (1980)

In the late nineteenth century, a twelve-year-old blind girl is taunted by four schoolmates as she makes her way home. Losing her bearings, she falls from the cliffs into the sea, filled with sudden hatred and rage moments before her death. Her body is never recovered.

A century later, Dr. Cal Pendleton, along with his pregnant wife June and twelve-year-old adopted daughter Michelle, begin a new life outside of Boston in the small coastal town of Paradise Point. Cal will be taking over as the town physician from Josiah Carson, even going so far to purchase not only his practice, but Carson’s house as well, complete with its own family cemetery. The Carsons have a long history with the village, but Josiah wants to retire, far away from his ancestral home. He and Cal have a strange bond, built over a twelve-year-old boy who died. The boy fell from the roof of Josiah’s home and was transferred to the Boston hospital where Cal worked. Cal misdiagnosed and the boy died. Since then, Cal is a hot mess, doubting himself, especially when it comes to treating children.

Apart from Cal’s anxiety over treating kids, the family seems to settle in fairly well, until Michelle, during a picnic on the beach with schoolmates, falls from the path going up the bluff when trying to escape the teasing of the popular rich-girl bully in town. Michelle suffers a baffling hip injury that shouldn’t be, and black-outs. It’s during those black-outs that bad things happen; namely, kids start dying.

I’m not entirely sure what this book was supposed to be. It has elements of ghost, possession, and evil child stories, with vague hints of a haunted house tale, but because of its lack of focus, or perhaps attempts to shoe-horn in too much, the book fails to deliver anything remotely close to chills, scares, or atmosphere. It’s all very bland and one dimensional, generating as much interest as a piece of cardboard. There aren’t any surprises either. I figured out what was going to happen by the end of the prologue. That’s pretty bad. Throughout the story, there’s a barrel full of red herrings, and a side order of pointless MacGuffins. A few examples:

Cal’s crippling fear of treating children is never fully explained. More importantly, neither is his sudden aversion to his adopted daughter, once his biological daughter is born.

June going into labor while standing at a particular grave (no significance whatsoever).

Who the hell killed Josiah’s ancestor Louise Carson? Don’t make a mystery of it if you’re not going to solve it.

There’re implausibilities galore in this mess. The kids taunting Michelle for being adopted? Maybe, but them taunting her as a cripple for using a cane after falling from a cliff? In 1980? No. From personal experience, it rings incredibly hollow. What’s the ulterior motive of Josiah Carson? For that matter, why is wrathful ghost-child Amanda targeting random kids? How about explaining the potting shed that wasn’t really a potting shed, and what happened there a hundred years ago?

Characterizations are terrible. At the very beginning of the book, twelve-year-old Michelle reads older, more like eighteen, especially in her conversations with her father, and feels inauthentic. Suddenly, once she meets some other kids, she reads the appropriate age. Unsympathetic Cal’s doubt, anxiety, and denial grew old quick. June was the only character who showed a little spark (not to mention sanity), but too often she backed off just when she was about to lay into her husband for his rude and obnoxious behavior. Basically, I didn’t care about anyone.

What really struck me is how derivative this whole story felt, like Saul watched re-runs of Dark Shadows during the day, then Little House on The Prairie during prime time, cobbling together plot points and characters from both. Hell, several character names are right out of Dark Shadows (Peterson, Hanley, Evans, Amanda). The fact that bonnet wearing Amanda is blind gives a real Little House vibe, it’s Mary Ingalls gone bad! Oh, and rich-girl bully Susan Peterson is Nellie Olesen. I was going to give specific examples of similarities, but why waste more time?

There are far too many loose ends by the end of this, which makes for an unsatisfying read. By tightening up the plot, it could have been moderately entertaining.

  1. Ditch the bullshit about Cal questioning himself. Just have him and Carson develop a friendship as a result of the patient, and Carson suggesting Cal take over his practice so he can retire.
  2. Make Michelle a Carson, with Amanda welcoming her ‘home’ and using her to facilitate her revenge. (Josiah can discover through old records that Michelle is a relation)
  3. Make the four kids who die in the present descendants of the four kids who tormented Amanda right before she died.
  4. Dump the superfluous. The only reason June was pregnant was for the “you’re adopted!” teasing, Cal suddenly and inexplicably ignoring Michelle, and a moronic epilogue.

When all the fat is trimmed, Comes the Blind Fury would be a better story, albeit a short one, but sometimes, brief and concise is better. With paper-thin characters, tepid moodiness, and lack of anything truly macabre, this book will bore adults, but probably resonate with middle-graders. * out of 5