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Retro Friday Review: Locked in Time by Lois Duncan

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

So we've talked about my Joan Lowery Nixon phase here before. I actually think I discovered Lois Duncan right before Nixon, but the two will always go hand and hand in my mind. Together they perfectly satisfied my twelve-year-old thirst for a light blending of suspense and the macabre. And no Duncan book did that better than the deliciously creepy Locked in Time. I enjoyed all of her books and they all succeeded in giving me the chills at one point or another. My old copy of I Know What You Did Last Summer is definitely showing its age and my love, as I loved revisiting those characters the most. But Locked in Time is the one that truly scared me. Not just chills, not just anxious anticipation, but the real deal, had me setting the book down long enough to calm my racing heart kind of scared. 

Seventeen-year-old Nore has been away at boarding school since her mother died a year ago. Now she's on her way to Louisiana to visit her father and his new wife and her two children. When she arrives at Shadow Grove, several things are clear. Her father is happy with his new life. Her stepmother Lisette, stepbrother Gabe, and stepsister Josie are perfectly well-mannered and perfectly beautiful. And something is very, very wrong with them. Through conversations she has with elderly neighbors and residents of the town, Nore's seemingly crazy suspicions about Lisette, Gabe, and the entire Berge family start to grow. These vaguely horrific suspicions grow stronger as she overhears them discuss events from decades ago as though they were there when they happened. Nore finds herself torn between her distrust of Lisette and her growing friendship with Gabe. Determined to make her father come to his senses and see the truth, Nore rushes to solve the mystery of her new family before her time at Shadow Grove runs out.

When I think about this story now, years since I last re-read it, I am still instantly filled with the same overwhelming emotions--an appreciation for the heady beauties of the Deep South mixed with a sense of impending doom. Ms. Duncan struck the perfect chord with the impossibly lovely Berges and the simultaneous fear and longing Nore feels when in the presence of a "real" family again. The truth to the mystery unfolds smoothly and slowly, like warm molasses, creeping up behind you to tap you on the shoulder. In some ways it reminded me of a younger, simpler Mary Stewart novel, with its lovely heroine and its beautiful atmosphere. I remember thinking Nore was brave and being desperate for someone to believe her, for Gabe not to really be trying to kill her, for her father, in his grief, not to have ruined them both so thoroughly. It's the same emotional connection I seek out today when I'm in the mood for something slightly dangerous, slightly haunting, slightly bittersweet. It was these early young adult mysteries that led me to the Mary Stewarts, the Laurie Kings, the Deanna Raybourns I discovered later on. I will always love them for being the beginning. 

Comments

  1. DUDE! Locked In Time was my all time favorite Lois Duncan. I read this book so much that my copy's spine fell apart and the cover fell off! This was my first real exposure to the southern American gothic horror type of novel, and I don't really think anything has lived up to how incredibly creepy and atmospheric LIT was for me. Lisette...there are no words.

    What a great stroll down memory lane! Although I had a different cover than those pictured above (mine was dark purplish with an hourglass on the cover, and I think there was blood too...hmm, I'll have to hunt it down!).

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  2. Ok, I found my cover!

    http://www.library.escondido.org/teens/books/locked.gif

    You know, if you're interested. LOL. Most of my Lois Duncan books were from the same publisher, so they looked like the one linked above (my other favorites were the Third Eye and Down A Dark Hall ones!).

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  3. My favorites were Down a Dark Hall and Stranger with my Face. Actually, Thea, if you like DADH, you should try Cara Lockwood's YAs. Definitely have that feeling.

    SwmF though was awesome. The astral projection, the mansion on the cliff, such lovely gothic atmosphere.

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  4. I heart Lois Duncon. She was one of the first "horror" authors I read (y'know, after Chris Pike and Stine). Locked in Time wasn't really my fav, but it did succeed in scaring the pants off of me and definetly stands out as one of the creepiest I've read. Great post!

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  5. Thea, *highfive* I knew you'd join me in the Duncan love. You hit the nail on the head. No words for Lisette. She scared the holy crap out of me. Sort of like that bloody hourglass cover is...lol.

    I had a completely different cover again. And I couldn't find an image of it anywhere! Mine was a paperback with a girl in a sort of flowy white sundress and straw hat (?) standing on the lawn in the mist looking back at the house. It worked. Had the whole Southern Gothic feel down pat.

    Diana, I knew you'd be one of us, too! I loved Down a Dark Hall. I haven't read any Lockwood, either, so I should probably look her up. Stranger with my Face really creeped me out back then. It's been long enough, though, that it's fuzzy. Must revisit that one.

    Dannie, same here. Soooo creepy. And just thinking about all those neon Christopher Pike covers and spines makes me smile. :)

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  6. Diana - Ooh! I haven't tried any of Cara Lockwood, I don't think! I'll add her to the list, thanks :)

    Angie - *highfive* Part of the fun of these old books from young adulthood is looking for "your" particular cover. Yours sounds like it was lovely :p

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  7. Oh my word, I loved this book so much! I had two copies - both were that first cover on the left. I had a very love-hate relationship with Lois Duncan as a teenager, but Locked in Time was always a favorite. I don't know what happened to my copies!

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  8. I adored Duncan's books as a teen, too. Especially Down a Dark Hall and Killing Mr. Griffin (both fascinating in different ways). I don't remember Locked in Time as well - perhaps that one is due for a re-read. Thanks for the review.

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  9. Jenny, lol, tell me about this love/hate relationship.

    Jen, I read Killing Mr. Griffin early on and it really gave me the shivers. It's amazing how potent those memories are today.

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