Friday, September 28, 2018

Book Review: Night's Harbor by W.J. Renehan

Sometimes I forget how enjoyable straight-up old-school horror can be. You know, the stuff I grew up on? When it’s done well, as is the case with W.J. Renehan’s novella Night’s Harbor, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

At first I was a little worried since this is a vampire story, and we certainly don’t need any more romantic fang-whores littering up our literary world. No thank you. Luckily, Renehan has opted for vamps of the vicious variety. I mean, no joke, these bastards are fugly inside and out, and they do some extremely nasty things to some of the characters that even shocked me a little. Yup, Renehan is not afraid to go to some dark, dark places many authors will not explore, which I can appreciate. I mean, this is horror, right? Not a happy-go-lucky skip through Candyland while holding hands with Santa Claus.

The setup to this story is very basic. Vamps taking over a town, slaughtering or turning its denizens one by one, seeking something that could allow them to essentially take over the world, and the town (most notably a former sheriff and an old vampire hunter) must fight to protect humanity, both their own and as a whole. What makes this novel work well and stand out is Renehan’s superior command of prose. Not only is it very tight, but he allows enough flourishes of language to solidifies him as a solid all-around writer.

If I were to complain about anything, it’s that I wish this were a novel rather than a novella, mostly because I would have liked a little more breathing room to further develop some of the minor characters. The main players are developed well, considering the space constraints, but I would have loved a few more chapters with some of the other characters, specifically those who fall victim to the vampires and have some seriously horrible fates. It would have made the already strong impact even stronger.

All in all, I was impressed and look forward to reading more of Renehan’s work, especially when I get the hankering for a primo modern take on classic horror.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Review: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

I know it’s a total cliché to say you just can’t put a book down, but screw it. Tremblay’s latest novel is the epitome of such a claim. Problem is, I was reading it during breaks at work, so I HAD to put it down. Gah!

I’ve been a huge fan of Tremblay since A Head Full of Ghosts (easily one of my favorite horror novels of the last ten years or so), and have been meaning to get to his back catalogue eventually, despite it not being of the same genre (I’m of the belief that authors this good generally excel at whatever genre they attempt to tackle. See Joe R. Lansdale for another example of incredible writing trumping genre). But in the meantime I’ve been moving forward. Despite it being a very different beast from AHFOG, I loved Disappearance at Devil’s Rock quite a bit, so I was rip-roaring ready for some more Tremblay to consume. Gimme gimme gimme.

I wasn’t ready for The Cabin at the End of the World.

Holy macanoli.

Allow me to give you just a quick setup, a taste if you will. A gay couple (Andrew and Eric) and their adopted Chinese daughter Wen set off to a cabin in northern New Hampshire to enjoy some alone time. Since this alone would not make for a very interesting book, naturally something has to foil their plans. And that something comes in the form of Leonard, Sabrina, Redmond, and Adriane, a group of intruders who show up feigning friendship but harboring something much darker. All signs point to cult, but something’s off. You see, these four individuals (who allegedly have never met before that morning) have all foreseen the impending apocalypse, and the only way to stop it is from coming (and it’s coming, like, really goddamned soon!) is for the happy family to choose to do something unspeakable. To share anything more would be spoiling, so I’ll leave it at that.

Tremblay employs a breakneck pacing I’ve not seen in his previous efforts, only taking a few brief breaths for reflective flashbacks, and it works well for this book. I was sufficiently stressed from the moment things turned bad until they grew much, much worse. And if you’re familiar with Tremblay’s love of ambiguity (which I also love, love, love), The Cabin at the End of the World is no different in the sense that you may think you have a handle on what happens by the time you hit the last page, but you can’t really be sure. One thing you can be sure of: this is a dark, dark book.

As is to be expected, the prose shines in a way that perfectly sates my appetite for language. To manage this while maintaining such manic energy throughout is no small feat. A brutal story, beautifully worded. As long as Tremblay keeps pumping out novels of this quality, I’ll keep shelling out my hard-earned dough.

P.S. Paul, you need to promise to come back to San Diego one day. I regret to inform you that, though you managed to personalize my book and leave a message, you never technically signed it! Haha!