Title: Ghost Road Blues
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Published: Pinnacle Books (2006); an imprint of Kensington Publishing
Pine Deep is a small Pennsylvania town that boasts itself as "the spookiest town in America." What it doesn't so readily boast is the horrific killings that occurred in Pine Deep some thirty years ago. Now, weeks away from Halloween the same terror that brought bloodshed and heartbreak to the sleepy little town is ready to rise from the mud and the nightmares of the survivors to begin anew.
It turns out that Ghost Road Blues is merely the first book in a trilogy of malice and terror, but it sure kicks the story off in high gear. And I think the book's prologue may be the best I've read in recent years, as it set the tone for the entire novel perfectly. It quickly gives a glimpse at the precursor thirty years prior that puts things in motion for it all to run full circle at the start of the first chapter. If you've wondered how a prologue can be used effectively, here's a book that does it.
Two tragedies occurred thirty years ago in Pine Deep. First, there was the serial killer terrorizing the town that scarred the survivors for years to come. Secondly, after the killer--Ubel Griswold, a local farmer, but really a devil--was killed by a black guitarist/farmhand known as the Bone Man, a group of bigots marked the Bone Man as the real killer and beat him to death. From there, we get the foreboding message that evil doesn't die, it waits.
Jump to present day where two men, one the mayor (Terry Wolfe) and the other a proprietor of the macabre( Malcolm Crow), find themselves hurled back into a nightmare they lived through as kids and friends of the Bone Man, and one lost his baby sister to the devil, Ubel Griswold. Only they remember the truth of the Bone Man's heroism and Griswold's secret shame, and fittingly only they can find a way to fight the new faces and old that have descended upon Pine Deep for a new wave of madness.
The book finds a very good balance between telling the stories of Crow, Wolfe--both of whom have been experiencing prophetic nightmares leading up to the carnage that unfolds--and a boy named Mike, as well as the stories of the villains, Vic Wingate, Tow-Truck Eddie, and Karl Ruger--each with their own past full of evil who all inevitably cross paths under the influence of a secret force looking to wreak more havoc on Pine Deep and the world.
The story could have fallen off a cliff with all the character subplots going on, each playing into the main story arc, but things play out quite cohesively with just about everything making sense and not disturbing my suspension of disbelief. Some characters could have gotten lost in the shuffle, but very few loose strings are left behind. And even though this is the first of three books, the novel stands up as a stand-alone story, though the hinting at what's to come in the second and third installments are readily apparent. The cliffhanger is good, but not aggravating the way some books are.
I wondered if Maberry would go crazy with the gore in this book, given the detestable nature of the psychopaths running amok in its pages, but he strikes a good balance of suspense, brevity, and action. The scenes that could be depicted in far more gruesome fashion are given a less graphic lens, which should invite readers who may be averse to the blood and guts synonymous with the horror genre. Don't get me wrong, there's blood and guts, but it's done in a manner that provides more context than shock value. Good stuff, there.
I was very pleased with this book and will definitely be reading the other two books in the trilogy. After that, I have a feeling I'll be tracking down more Maberry novels, as the guy has been very busy since this trilogy hit shelves. Patient Zero is out now, and he has another novel due out this year.