January 2, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Covenant" by John Everson

Title: Covenant
Author: John Everson
Published: Leisure Books (2008); originally published in 2004
Pages: 296
Genre: Horror
ISBN 10: 0-8439-6018-3
ISBN 13: 978-0-8439-6018-1

John Everson snagged himself a Bram Stoker Award in 2005 for Superior Achievement in a First Novel with this novel. And after reading it, I'm certainly not going to argue that point. The creepy factor was turned up very high from the first chapter and didn't let up until the story was done.

If not for the fact that the sinister setting involves a seaside cliff long rumored to be inhabited by an evil spirit, I'd swear this was a haunted house tale. The sleepy town of Terrel provides a home for reporter, Joe Kieran, after fleeing the stress and trauma he experienced while reporting for one of Chicago's major papers. But when a teenage boy leaps to his death at Terrel's Peak in an apparent suicide, Joe has something "juicy" to report for the first time since moving into town months ago. But no one in town seems willing to discuss the young man's death, or the history of deaths at the same location, which Joe discovers during his investigation. As he digs deeper, in spite of warnings from his editor, the sheriff, and local acquaintances, Joe starts to see a pattern in the deaths and a connection between some of the more recent victims of the rocky shore at the bottom of the perilous drop.

At face value, this novel contains a few well-worn attributes of small town horror. There's the dark, secreted past of the small town, a lonely girl love interest, and a secret diary that ends up being indispensable to Joe in figuring out the secret of Terrel's Peak. These are sewn into a very effective tale of terror though, and I ended up ignoring any familiarity with the supposed tropes as the story progressed. If there was anything that kind of irritated me, it was the seemingly gratuitous amount of rape that occurs in the novel. I don't want to give away too much about the story, but there comes a point where it feels like overkill and placed in the story more for the sake of salaciousness than anything else. In one way, it cements one key aspect of the plot and specific characters, but towards the end of the novel it hit a saturation point for me. Still, fans of erotic horror may gravitate towards Everson's relentless approach.

Rather than a mystery novel, Everson provides readers with a glimpse of what's to come before Joe Kieran experiences it. So, instead of walking along in the sleuthing with him, you're left turning pages and hoping he doesn't fall into the traps laid out for him, both of his own making and his enemies'. It's through that approach that the dread and suspense becomes more effective than if you saw it all purely through Joe's eyes. Everson spends short periods of the novel stepping into the shoes of minor characters to see how the story is progressing beyond Joe's influence and how the inevitable climax is stacked against him. Rarely, the switching from character to character displaced me while reading, and I ended up appreciating the peaks at the mindsets of the minor characters.

Covenant is a very good read, and since it tied for that Bram Stoker Award with another novel called Stained by Lee Thomas, I'm curious to see what Thomas brought to the dance in 2004 to essentially "make par" with Everson's offering. There is a sequel to Covenant, titled Sacrifice. I wouldn't mind reading that one either.

You can find another review for this novel at the following blog: The Doctor Is In

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