Tense. Classic horror influence. Identifiable characters. An explosive, dramatic finale. What more could you want from a horror novel.
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If you were to visit me at home, going up the stairs you would pass an autographed Iron Maiden poster (circa 1985) and at the top you would see signed prints from An American Werewolf in London and Hellraiser. Why is that relevant to a book review? It’s a nod to a love of heavy music and horror movies, a love that grew through my teenage years. In much the same way as West, the central character in Hunter Shea’s tense, gripping and highly readable novel. Here we have a character that a lot of horror fans will be able to identify with, there is a lot we may recognize of ourselves in him. That love of horror though is where similarities in our life experiences likely end. After his father suffers serious injury in a car accident West finds himself having to face the prospect of moving away from his settled life in New York to live with the grandfather he barely knows on a dilapidated farm in the country. As you can probably guess that doesn’t exactly go smoothly.
What starts as a boring and lonely summer for West, having left his best friend behind in New York, slowly turns creepy, then gets scary and eventually escalates to outright terrifying. Hunter Shea has crafted a slow burn combining a number of classic horror tropes into one tense novel. The sense of unease is there right from the very start; West’s grandfather Abraham tells him the house is haunted and when strange noises occur and warning notes start to appear, he believes him. And so do we. Should we though? Or is there more going on? Those questions keep you hooked throughout and its to Shea’s credit that you aren’t really sure what the hell is actually going on until you reach the finale. Despite it’s narrow setting, most of the action takes place on one farm, the cast of characters is richly realized and there is a clear history between them which kept me engaged and intrigued as a reader.
In keeping with the very best of the genre, and in defiance of the expectations of those that don’t really understand it, the body count here is low. The suspense doesn’t come from wondering ‘who’s next’, it comes from a tightly wrought sense of tension from the outset. Even during moments of respite, there is a feeling that you are being lulled in to a false sense of security. This is one of those books where I needed to be disciplined to put it down and go to sleep at the end of the day. I can think of no higher complement to pay a horror novel.