The Lost Son is a new audio drama podcast (radio play) being released on October 25. I was pleasantly surprised when its author and director, Cole Burgett, offered me the opportunity to preview it. The Lost Son draws upon Gothic literature and particularly the 1941 Universal horror film The Wolf Man. That said, I felt it had a lot in common with the classic TV Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows because of its episodic structure, plus because that series also featured a werewolf plot, and it also had somber yet compelling theme music.
The Lost Son is divided into three episodes, each roughly half an hour long. It is set in 1899 with the main character, Dr. Emily Goodwin, now an old woman, recalling the strange events she participated in that year. Emily is a woman doctor, a rare thing still in late Victorian times, and her sex causes some contention with a detective when she becomes involved in an investigation. The story is set in New York. Emily practices medicine in New York City but travels to Ballard Hall in the central part of the state for the main events of the plot.
I won’t give away the full plot but just say enough to pique interest. The story opens when Emily receives a letter from Andrew Ballard, a man she formerly loved, asking her to come and visit him. Emily has conflicting feelings since she broke off her relationship with Andrew because he was often secretive or at least unwilling to share his feelings with her. However, Andrew says he needs her help, and she decides to answer his call, even though her fiancé is not happy with the idea.
Emily travels to Ballard Hall, a place sufficiently Gothic and eerie, described as being like a castle from the Dark Ages and a “relic” of the time of “superstition and the sword.” The man who drives her to the house tries to convince her to return with him rather than stay there, which reminded me of the warnings Jonathan Harker experiences before he arrives at Dracula’s Castle, but like Jonathan, Emily decides to stay.
Once Emily arrives at Ballard Hall, she immediately sees Andrew, who is handsome with his mother’s eyes but his dad’s disposition. His mother died before Emily ever met her, but she remembers his father’s cruel face and rough demeanor. Andrew reveals to Emily that his father died a few weeks before and that he seemed to have gone mad in the end, wandering about the house at night, speaking to his mother’s specter, and claiming there is a curse upon their family. Then he was found dead outside, apparently killed by a wild animal. Andrew is not fully forthcoming about everything, however. Only when the local doctor, Arthur Darrow, arrives, does Emily learn the full story.
Arthur tells Emily that Andrew’s father’s death is not the only murder. Several other people have been killed in the area, presumably by a wild animal, or possibly someone is committing murder then making it look like a wild animal has done the killing to throw investigators off the scent. As the local coroner, Arthur has been the lead investigator of the deaths, but now a Pinkerton detective is being sent to the area to investigate.
While the killings are worrisome, what alarms Emily the most is that Arthur is concerned for Andrew’s sanity. Emily has noticed Andrew wearing a signet ring that he says has been passed down in the family for generations and which has the image of a wolf on it. Arthur tells Emily there is a family tradition that the Ballards have been cursed with werewolfism, and Andrew not only believes his father may have been killed by a werewolf but that he may himself be the werewolf. As a doctor, Emily says she cannot believe in lycanthropy, but the horrible events that follow make her question everything she knows. Furthermore, when the Pinkerton detective arrives, his probing interrogation makes her question whether her feelings for Andrew are getting in the way of her seeing the truth.
I can’t say more or I would spoil the story, but I will say that I loved the final episode because of how stunningly in keeping with Gothic tradition it is—it reminded me of both Ainsworth’s Rookwood and Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and several other classic Gothic novels. The villain, whose identity I won’t reveal, does a splendid job of being evil. In fact, when Emily declares to the villain, “You’re a monster!” the villain replies, “You have no idea,” showing what delight they find in being evil. Gosh, I love a good villain!
The entire podcast is well done, with a plot that draws on traditional Gothic elements of ancestral curses, Gothic forests and mansions, madness, despair, revenge, and a mystery to be solved. I loved the secrets revealed and the overall story.
As an audio drama, The Lost Son succeeds well. Some of the dialogue and acting felt a bit more modern than one would want for 1899, but there was no space for long speeches and descriptions in a basically ninety-minute program and the story’s conciseness keeps the pace moving nicely. All the actors did a fine job, and I could visualize the action and scenes well just from the words spoken, the tones of the voices, and the few sound effects used. The division into episodes, with cliffhangers and the recurring theme music, added to the suspense.
I’m not a listener to podcasts usually—in fact, the only similar one I’ve listened to was a radio play that was a sequel to Dark Shadows, but I really enjoyed The Lost Son. I listened to all three episodes in one sitting and felt the time passed quickly—more so than many a movie of similar length I’ve sat through.
If you love podcasts that resemble old radio plays, and especially if you love Gothic literature, you’ll love The Lost Son. If you’re not a podcast listener, I recommend you give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.
All three episodes of The Lost Son will be released on October 25, 2022, on Buzzsprout, and it will be available on all major listening platforms, which you can find listed at https://thelostson.buzzsprout.com/, plus you can listen to a sneak peek there before the show is officially released.
Enjoy and Happy Halloween!
Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.