June 23, 2009

Book Review: "Afraid" by Jack Kilborn

Title: Afraid
Author: Jack Kilborn
Publisher: Grand Centrall Publishing
Published: April 2009
Pages: 346
Genre: Horror
ISBN: 978-0-446-53593-9

I was starting to have my worries when I started to read the first few pages of this novel. A small Wisconsin town with only one road in or out sets the scene, but when an aging shariff is introduced, just weeks away from retirement, a little alarm went off in my head. A writer may as well throw in an Ensign Jones and a smart-mouthed cheerleader, as long as they're breaking out the cliche cannon fodder. But, Sheriff Streng turns out to be more than a generic smalltown sheriff, after all. In fact, as the pages went by, I started to like the guy quite a bit.

Safe Haven feels like a familiar kind of small town, since I've lived much of my life in a small town. Volunteer fire department, minimal police presence, and everybody knows everybody. The key difference is my smalltown has never had to contend with a group of vicious, homicidal maniacs before. Knock on wood.

A reader needs a character or two, in a story where everyone is in the proverbial cross-hairs, he/she can really root for. For me, it was Sheriff Streng and a little boy named Duncan. They're two of countless residents of Safe Haven, Wisconsin who are put through the ringer after a helicopter crashes just outside of town, unleashing a small band of sadistic and seemingly indestructible killers on the local population. Heck, the wildlife isn't even safe.

Early in the novel, I half-wondered if would be a by-the-numbers slasher story. It's deceptively taught, however, and I was sucked in within the first fifty pages. Not even the sentient monkey named Madison could throw me out of the story, though it was a curveball from the author, and the little critter makes a sizeable contribution to how the story unfolds. He's a welcome bit of brevity, though.

The nature of the terror was unexpected, as the reasoning behind why this town is suffering such an onslaught is not what I had expected at all. I won't delve into details, but I will say two of the villains, Santiago and Ajax, were especially effective with a kind of Of Mice and Men meets Jekyll and Hyde. Brief bits of back story were a welcome addition too, because there were moments while I reading I wondered just what in the heck made these killers tick.

Relentless: it's a one word summation of this novel that I think is apt. The story does not stop, it does not let up. There is a body count that's innumerable, and the twists and turns in the third act are rewarding. The backstory and origins of the bad guys are, at the same time, proposterous and plausible. Suspension of disbelief comes easily, or at least it did for me.

While I won't be ranking this tale of terror as one of my favorites, I was entertained, and consider it a great "first" outing for Kilborn in the genre. His next novel, Trapped, is due out early next year. I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

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