Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem

Book cover for Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem

Ahh, those fun occasions where you wander into an indie bookstore and leave with an armful of completely and totally obscure books. ‘Oh look, there is a book I have never seen or heard of before. I feel rather sorry for it; it must have no friends… I shall take it home with me!’ Quite obviously, Deadfall Hotel was one of these books but so were another, ooh… four books? Yeah, I have a problem. But hey, at least I’ve read one of them! *is proud*

Plot summary – Think of it as the vacation resort of the collective unconscious. The Deadfall Hotel is where our nightmares go, it’s where the dead pause to rest between worlds, and it’s where Richard Carter and his daughter Serena
go to rediscover life — if the things at the hotel don’t kill them
first. With the powerful prose that has earned him awards and accolades,
Steve Rasnic Tem explores the roots of fear and society’s fascination with things horrific, using the many-layered metaphor of the Deadfall Hotel.
Drawing inspiration from literary touchstones John Gardner and Peter
Straub, Tem elegantly delves into the dark corners of the human spirit.
There he finds not only our fears, but ultimately our hopes.

Deadfall Hotel is written primarily from the third person perspective of Richard Carter, a young widower left alone with his ten year old daughter, Serena. Together they’ve been wandering aimlessly ever since Abby died, but they see a new future ahead after Richard comes across a job vacancy for the new proprietor of The Deadfall Hotel. They pack up and set off, only to discover all is not what it seems.
Interspersed with the narration of Richard’s learning period is the occasional excerpt from the journal of Jacob, the ageing previous manager who has stayed on as a handyman. These frame each individual chapter and provide a little more information about the hotel, from a man a little more in-the-know than Richard.
There’s no overall story arc, other than the fact Richard and Serena are new at the hotel. Instead, the book is comprised of long chapters each describing one particular event or situation at the hotel. It’s a strange format and I’m not entirely sure it works – they’re too long to be short stories, but not long enough to form the basis of the book. I don’t know, it was quite badly organised and ended very abruptly. I think I’d have preferred there to be one central issue to be dealt with, and the other events around the edges as sub-plots.
The stories themselves are quite varied; some more interesting than others. They’re occasionally quite repetitive – the chapter about the cats in particular I was about ready to give up on. I swear I never want to look at another cat for a good long while, especially ones of this variety. The story about the religious cult is very well-written and wonderfully disturbing though 🙂
The bulk of the volumes in the library were items Richard – who considered himself fairly well-read – had never heard of before…
A large collection of cookbooks exploring cuisines Richard had no interest at all in sampling filled an entire bookcase. Partially completed novels which for some reason had been bound and distributed anyway. A book of transparent pages. Several large volumes of photographs of feet. First aid manuals for ‘Species of Dubious Existence.’ And a one-hundred-and-twenty-three-volume set of The Recorded Dreams of Ruth M. Gammetier. 
                                              – I want this library.

I just don’t think we learnt enough about the hotel by the end – I couldn’t really explain it to you if you asked me tomorrow. I know that this kind of writing device can work quite well on occasion, but Deadfall Hotel is narrated like you’re meant to know what’s going on, and I didn’t. I don’t need authors to get the hand puppets out to explain things to me, but a little bit more explanation would have been nice.
There are scenes of fairly graphic violence, animal torture/abuse and general creepiness, so I’d steer clear if you’re squeamish about the above or you’re under 15 years of age. Even I cringed a little at certain points, and I like to think I’m fairly settled.
While I think this would make a truly awesome TV show, I just couldn’t connect to it as a book. The lack of consistency and explanation dragged down what was a wonderful concept with imaginative and descriptive prose. Steve Rasnic Tem clearly has a talent for writing, but I just can’t help but think Deadfall Hotel could have been so much more.
Visit Steve Rasnic Tem’s blog here.


  1. I saw that you'd started this on GoodReads and really wanted it to be good because it sounded good but also because I really like the cover. It makes me sad when someone is clearly a brilliant writer but seems to be writing the wrong story.

    Plus, I always get the impression that you're hardier than me (but no, I don't know why…) and if you say it's queasiness-inducing, I'm pretty sure I'd be hiding the book so I could forget it…

    Oh and PS.(even though this has nothing at all to do with this book but I meant to text you earlier and then realised that that wasn't an option!) Some wisdom that my boss decided to share with me today: "If you're bringing up promissory estoppel, you've already lost". Seeing as I was doing that very thing, it wasn't great advice BUT I'm sharing it with you because I think that you'll care the most out of the people I know. So there you go…

    1. Hanna says:

      It's not that it's the wrong story, more that there isn't one. I mean, I'm the one that has always said she'd be perfectly happy if there was no overall plot to the Harry Potter books – just Charms classes and Hogsmeades trips, but Deadfall Hotel isn't really interesting enough to pull it off. It really didn't some grand aim underneath it all.

      It's not ALL queasy, just there's a scene with cats and… yeah. Gross. The RSPCA would have a field day.

      Haha, I do care. God, I LOATHE promissory estoppel. I have a quote ringing round in my head about it being a double-edged sword or something? And I think I rather like your boss… Also, I'll private Tweet you my phone number, so next time you can text me your Law-is-doom quotes 🙂

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