July 15, 2017

Little Heaven, Lotta Horror: a review of Nick Cutter's "Little Heaven"

Little Heaven
by Nick Cutter
Simon & Schuster Canada (2017)
496 pages

A story about a cult based in the middle of the woods is a frightening enough premise, if you ask me, but Nick Cutter decided that wasn’t near enough and threw in a trio of assassins and a supernatural juggernaut for good measure in Little Heaven, his third outing through Simon & Schuster.

The novel starts with the emergence (actually, re-emergence we come to learn) of an evil spirit that takes the shape of a hideous amalgamation of wildlife, which then seeks out and abducts a little girl from her home. The imagery in this opening scene is the kind of stomach-queezing fare that Cutter made himself known for in his two previous novels, The Troop and The Deep. The girl is to be used as bait to lure three killers, one of whom the girl's father, with whom the entity has unfinished business. But before we see our three killers, Micah (the father), Ebenezer, and Minerva, head out on their return trek, we witness their pivotal meeting and their first foray into the wilds of the southwest where they encounter the doomed cult and the malevolent spirits that surround them.

The alliance between the three killers grows through what starts off as a bullet-ridden threeway dance of sorts, as each has initially been set against the other, but in their lack of success in offing each other, they settle on a truce of sorts and are eventually enlisted by a concerned woman desperate to find and save her young nephew who has been whisked away to the woods by a cult. Beyond that, they come to rely on one another as more and more odds are set against them.

Along the way, some supporting characters manage to add some much-needed flavor to what might otherwise be a one-note horror story. The ramshackle compound is populated by a cult driven by fear and frayed nerves. Amos Flesher, the leader, quickly reveals himself to the outsiders as a conniving and unstable figurehead buffeted and precariously aligned with two other hired killers who increasingly see the compound as a place to go into business for themselves. Then there's the young boy the gang has been tasked with finding, one of the only people in the camp seemingly unaffected by the influence of the cult leader inside the compounds walls or the entity lurking outside its walls. It didn't take long actually for him to become the most engaging and sympathetic character of the bunch and an easy one to root for getting out of there alive, though the book offers zero assurances such a feat is possible. And after all that brouhaha is settled, the horrors are begun anew many years later with the reckoning they all knew would come sooner or later in those woods.

At the end of the day, Little Heaven feels like a bit of a mish-mash, kind of like the creatures lurking within its pages. Cutter plays with quite a few hallmarks of the horror genre, particularly the earlier works of Stephen King, but nothing really stands out as its own and feels more like an echo of what's come before. Still, it's done with enough flair and fierceness to make it an enjoyable read and downright hair-raising at moments. I'm not sure what Cutter has up his sleave for the next horror novel, but I look forward to it and hope he can carve out more of his own style amid what this decade has shown to be a great one for horror fiction.

1 comment:

  1. I have The Troop sitting around, waiting to be read.

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