Will is your average fifteen-year-old boy: he likes hanging out with his friends, thinking about girls, playing baseball, keeping away from bullies, taking care of his little sister—oh, and coming head to head with a sadistic serial killer. You know, average coming-of-age stuff. Add to that the weird things people keep seeing in the woods and this might just be the strangest (and worst) year of Will's life.
I had no idea what to expect going into this book, but I was immediately drawn to the characters—their witty banter and strong personalities gave me a bit of a Summer of Night or The Body vibe (and I am definitely not the first person to make those comparisons).
Jonathan Janz builds likable and realistic characters with believable dialogue—something that is no small feat. He really has a knack for voice and I loved the relationship between the three friends Will, Chris, and Barley. Janz has a great talent for dialogue and I'd love to read more of his books based on that alone.
The story is built in such a way that it is easy to read and compels you to keep reading—I got through it in one sitting! So carve out some time for this sucker because you're going to want to see where it goes.
There was some double mumbo jumbo going on in this book—a term I stole from Blake Snyder and think is pretty legit: we can only ask people to believe in one "magical" thing for any story. So it is pushing it to say there is a crazy escaped serial murderer who is basically on the level of Mike Myers and also something supernaturally evil potentially roaming around in the woods.
While I was skeptical at first, and it does falter a bit for me, losing parts of one thread (which, without trying to spoil anything, I thought was going to be the main point of the book) to focus on the other, all the insanity plays out pretty well and definitely held my interest throughout the book. There are surprises, twists, and plenty of action and bloodshed.
Overall, I really enjoyed this tale and Janz's strong writing held me throughout a few of the moments that might have lost me in another book. The good news is, there are plenty of other books to read by J. Janz! I will be seeking out some of his other work. (Also, I heard a rumor that there might be a sequel in the works??)
My thanks to Jonathan Janz, Sinister Grin, and Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi for gifting copies of this book to all the Night Worms to read and review!
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started reading this book!
Malerman—always inventive—has come up with a creepy, compelling, and genuinely unique tale of betrayal, adventure, and death.
Carol has died many times—but in truth she doesn’t really die, she just has a strange condition where she falls into a coma due to stressful conditions and appears to be dead for several days. She keeps her condition a secret except for a few people she is close to, but what happens when one of the people she trusts wants her dead?
We all learned to love Malerman when he blew our minds with Bird Box—still one of the most truly scary and original horror novels I’ve ever read. He has a very specific, visceral style of writing that draws in the reader so they can’t look away. I was not as big of a fan of Black Mad Wheel, but he is such an interesting voice, I am always excited to see he has a new book coming out.
And this unique voice isn’t lost in his newest novel. The book is styled as a Western and feels very much like it is set in a different time and place from the way the characters speak and interact with the world around them, to the structure of story itself.
The reader switches between a few different characters, seeing all the sides of the story almost like a movie. We see Carol’s perspective—the creepiest and my favorite—as she describes what she can see and hear from her coma and what might be lurking with her in that tenuous spot between life and death. We see Carol’s husband, Dwight, who has a scheme all his own. We see Carol’s old flame, James Moxie, who became an infamous outlaw and now is the only other person who knows her secret. We see another trailrider, the villainous and insane Smoke, who hunts Moxie, and is out to cause whatever chaos he can.
The book threw me a bit when I first started it because the voice is fairly stylistic, but once I got a handle on the lilt of the dialogue and turn of phrase, I really got into it. There are no slow points in this story since it is constantly throwing the reader back and forth between the minds of all the characters and their specific goals, whether their intentions be nefarious or righteous.
Though the style is definitely different, you can’t argue with a great plot! I loved the first chapter set at the funeral and the way all the characters were introduced. I loved the way they fit into Western stock characters (retired outlaw, damsel in distress) but as the book progressed, busted through those stereotypes too.
I would have loved to see more of Howltown (what Carol calls the place where she goes when she is in a coma) and more of her perspective. The book is a little low on women’s perspectives and Carol, her maid Farrah, and her mom, Hattie, were all such great characters. The latter two felt especially underused to me.
Overall, I loved the blended genre that Malerman created and was really impressed that this book came from the same guy who wrote his last two books—he is constantly reinventing his own writing and for that versatility alone it is worth seeking his books out.
I read this book as a part of the Night Worms conglomerate and I’d like to thank Del Rey for sending us all review copies of the book!
Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.