Midwest Book Review

Small Press Bookwatch, Mystery/Suspense Shelf

Eye of the Moon
Ivan Obolensky
Smith-Obolensky Media
9781947780002, $27.99, HC, 554pp,

Synopsis: Johnny's legendary socialite Aunt Alice mysteriously died while reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead when he and Percy were ten. They have been kept in the dark about that night ever since. Twenty years later, they are reunited, along with family and guests, for a weekend house party at Rhinebeck, the sumptuous estate once owned by Alice. But Rhinebeck holds more than just childhood memories. From the family butler, they learn that Alice's story is far darker than anticipated, and will impact all their lives, particularly Percy's, before the weekend concludes. All who attend are ensnared in a surprising web of mystery, Egyptian occultism, sumptuous elegance, and intrigue, where family members, guests, and even the servants have their own agendas, and nothing is what it seems.

Critique: A deftly crafted and simply riveting gothic mystery by a master of the genre, Ivan Obolensky's "Eye of the Moon" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated mystery buffs that "Eye of the Moon" is also available in a paperback edition (9781947780026, $16.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $2.99).

Reader's Favorite Rating: 5 out of 5

In the scintillating supernatural mystery, Eye of the Moon by Ivan Obolensky, two young men battle family discord and the forces of the occult. Percy's parents had no place for him in their busy lives and left him with their close friends, the Dodges. Percy was the same age as the Dodges' son Johnny, and the two boys grew up together as brothers. When they were young, Johnny's Aunt Alice died unexpectedly during a house party. Alice had lived an extraordinary life, and her death was out of the ordinary. Rumors of murder had been whispered about, but nothing ever came of the innuendos. Many years later, at a weekend house party the Dodges are giving for old friends and family, things again take an unexpected and shocking turn, and Percy is surprised to find himself in the midst of it. For a bit of fun, Johnny and Percy delve into one of Alice's ancient occult books and receive unexpected results. A lot of old secrets are revealed, and the familial fur begins to fly. Will Johnny and Percy survive the family celebration without being disinherited or exiled? Or even worse, will they suffer the same fate as Alice?

Eye of the Moon by Ivan Obolensky is a thrillingly eerie mystery novel with a Gothic ambiance and supernatural elements seeping through the story line. The intriguing tale is told from the main character Percy's point of view, engaging the reader with his articulate and conscientious personality. From the beginning, Percy relates his history and that of each person in the narrative, melding their past with the present. Despite the chronology of the many events the characters had experienced before the story began, they are combined to create a fabulously spine-chilling plot. This is an amazing novel, and I recommend it to those who love a spooky mystery with a supernatural flavor. However, it would be more suitable for a mature audience as there are a few mild references to drug use and sexual encounters.

- Reviewed by Susan Sewell for Readers' Favorite

IndieReader Rating: 4.7 out of 5

Verdict: A gothic mystery set in 1977—involving the occult, stolen treasure, family secrets, and financial sabotage—EYE OF THE MOON is sumptuous in its description of white-tie dinner parties and sexual tensions with baronesses, and sharp in its maneuvering of several secret puzzles at once.

When Johnny Dodge knocks on Percy’s door and asks him to help uncover whether they’ve accidentally drunk the bottles of Château Lafite 1959 that Johnny’s parents were saving for their anniversary, Percy should have known that more than fine wine would be opened during a weekend in Rhinebeck, the Dodge family estate that always felt a bit peculiar. Soon the best friends are deep in a mystery involving the questionable death of Johnny’s aunt Alice, the occult, hidden paternity, and high-stakes financial risk—all over the course of a weekend party at the unsettling estate.

The mysteries are finely woven together and readers must think fast on their feet if they hope to keep up with the meticulous minds of the weekend guests. Percy is a capable protagonist for this high-stakes maneuvering, and half of the fun is reading his descriptions of the five-course meals served by Dagmar and the fine liquors decanted by Stanley, who run the house for the Dodges. The style occasionally sounds better fit for the 1940’s than the 1970’s, but it fits the tone of the book: “Lafite, yes, they were very good, if memory serves. In fact, they were positively outstanding. I remember your delight when you discovered those two bottles hidden in the back of the cellar. We consumed both, one after the other, and you kept repeating that the wine was fit for the gods.” The one false step is the drama of Robert the Bruce, Johnny’s dog, who shits out an Hermès scarf the first time Johnny meets Bruni, one of the weekend guests—a tawdry tale that is played for laughs in a story that otherwise keeps very close to Gothic seriousness.

EYE OF THE MOON is a gothic mystery of the finest order, Eyes Wide Shut meets Agatha Christie.

- Danielle Bukowski for IndieReader

Clarion Rating: 4 out of 5

Set in 1977, the novel has a timeless, eerie feeling.

Wealth, family politics, and the occult make for a strangely captivating and exotic brew in Ivan Obolensky’s Eye of the Moon.

Wealthy playboy Johnny Dodge invites his childhood companion Percy on an extended weekend in Rhinebeck at his family’s Gormenghastian country estate. At first, it seems that nothing more sinister is in the offing than the Bertie Woosterish hijinks of rich bachelor boys dodging the slings of omniscient butlers and the arrows of dreaded matrimony.

But Rhinebeck has many secrets, and so do the Dodges and their kin. Some of them are dark and decidedly uncomedic. Percy finds that both the past and the present hold threats that could destroy not only the Dodges and their fortune but him as well.

The novel is unusually formatted, told almost entirely in the form of dialogues between Percy and various habitués of, and visitors to, Rhinebeck over the course of five days full of discovery and confrontation. This takes a little getting used to, but it works well for the story. It allows the past to be revealed a bit at a time, gradually filling in parts of the extended plot that occurred long before Percy’s arrival.

Although the novel is nominally set in 1977, it has a timeless feel and could just as well take place at almost any time in the last century. The leisurely pace allows the audience plenty of time to wonder at the cryptic mysteries of Rhinebeck’s hidden libraries and long-abandoned bedchambers, to vicariously enjoy the sumptuous dishes and vintage wines provided by its admirable staff, and to absorb the implications of each discovery as Percy and Johnny investigate the feuds, betrayals, and occult secrets of the strange and tangled Dodge family history.

The only questionable note is the apparent placidity with which Percy and his friend accept some truly hair-raising events, including an apparent episode of demonic possession during which at least two sexual encounters take place. This is explained in the context of the story by reference to amnesia caused by the same exotic drug that enabled Percy and Johnny’s dabbling in occult rituals in the first place, but some readers may find it hard to credit that even the most jaded playboy could accept such experiences without grave psychic effects.

The surprising revelations and apparent coincidences come fast and furiously as the novel approaches its climax, but the groundwork was carefully laid for this intricate plot structure, and most threads are successfully tied together in the end.

Percy’s final words suggest that there is more to his story, but it is unclear whether those details are left to the imagination or whether the audience can anticipate further tales from Obolensky’s pen.

- Bradley A. Scott, Foreword Reviews

Ivan Obolensky’s Eye of the Moon is a house party mystery much in the style of Agatha Christie—without the body.

Percy is persuaded by long-time friend Johnny Dodge to return to the Dodge estate on the Hudson River to celebrate Johnny’s parents’ anniversary. Also invited are Johnny’s grandmother “Maw” Leland, his step-aunt, Bonnie, John Sr.’s friend Baron von Hofmanstal with his wife and daughter Brunhilde, and hanger-on Malcolm Ault. Raised by the family, Percy has never felt part of it, except around Johnny’s Aunt Alice, who died under strange circumstances. His misfit feelings intensified after Johnny and Percy’s successful financial trading company suddenly failed; Percy feels responsible.

During the weekend, Aunt Alice’s dark dabbling in the occult is revealed by—who else?—the butler, Stanley. Johnny and Percy summon a demon to find out if Alice was murdered. Percy falls for Brunhilde and discovers multiple truths about his background. Family antagonisms explode.

Most of the action takes place before the story starts, so the characters need time and space to retell the tale to each other: Johnny outlines his fall from grace to Percy; Butler Stanley spends a night revealing Alice’s history, and so on. This structure slows the story significantly, though this isn’t necessarily bad. Readers have time to get to know the characters and the lifestyle they’ll do so much to protect. It’s like having brandy and a cigar in the library with Lord Peter Wimsey rather than confronting bad guys a la Kinsey Millhone. In fact, although the story is set in the U.S. in 1977, the narrative voice is much like a 1930s-40s British mystery—so much so that when a character says his brain is “fried,” it’s jarring.

There are a few too many plot lines here, and Obolensky doesn’t always pull them together in satisfying ways. The ending is far too pat. Nonetheless, Eye of the Moon’s intriguing characters and interesting twists deliver an engaging, enjoyable read.

- BlueInk Review

In this debut murder mystery, a pair of friends searches for clues in the darkest recesses of the occult.

Johnny and Percy grew up as close as brothers. So when Johnny asks Percy to accompany him to his family’s luxurious estate in Rhinebeck, New York, he agrees despite some reservations. While rummaging about in the cellar, they stumble upon some personal effects that belonged to Johnny’s deceased aunt, Alice, a larger-than-life figure who died under mysterious circumstances. In response to their curiosity, Stanley, the family’s butler and once Alice’s confidant, enigmatically offers them a contract of sorts: he’ll give them Alice’s diary and tell them everything he knows about her life in exchange for a future favor left currently undetermined. In the spirit of adventure, they both accept, and Stanley regales them with a lurid tale of Alice’s fraught marriage to Lord Bromley, a sinister man rumored to have dabbled in the supernatural. He is an abusive husband—his malignancy is memorably described by Obolensky—and Alice finally conspires to escape marriage to him. The cost of her victory, she believes, is a terrible curse delivered to her by Bromley. She devotes the remainder of her days searching for a reprieve from her dark punishment, indefatigably perusing ancient artifacts and books to that purpose. Johnny and Percy want to discover if her death was the result of murder and follow her lead in summoning demons to divine the truth. Meanwhile, Percy becomes infatuated with Brunhilde von Hofmanstal, the beautiful daughter of a baron and his wife, all visiting Rhinebeck. Though his feelings for her are powerful, he also suspects her interest in him is fueled more by ulterior than romantic motives.

Obolensky conjures a remarkably imaginative tale, seamlessly juxtaposing the quotidian and the magical in a way that renders the latter mesmerizingly plausible. Johnny and Percy’s headlong march into the occult world that may have destroyed Alice is shockingly inadvisable and yet seems to make sense all the same. In addition, the author has a morbid gift for the description of human turpitude that simultaneously inspires both revulsion and awe. But his writing, in particular the dialogue, is oddly genteel and strikes a decorous tone that is more suitable to the 1870s than the 1970s, the actual setting of the story. Exchanges between characters include phrases like “pray tell” and “indeedy,” which seem like the author’s approximations of the communicative ticks of the well-heeled. Nevertheless, Alice’s complex character powerfully emerges as the plot’s tonal center, a bewitching amalgam of moral strength, intellectual vitality, and a lust for life. Likewise, Stanley is far more than meets the eye, and Obolensky skillfully portrays him with literary restraint, leaving the reader to deliciously wonder if he’s truly a friend or a secret foe. The principal failing of the novel is its sprawling length (more than 500 pages). The plot unfurls at a sleepy pace, and the author promiscuously inserts narrative detours. Still, the story as a whole remains a transfixing one, ingeniously constructed.

Despite its length, an engrossing tale of mystery and magic.

- Kirkus Reviews