I figured today might be a good day for another book review, seeing as I have been a very naughty author and veered off my Hevna work recently to write for my contemporary horror novel.
In my defense, I have quite a lot of real-life stuff happening right now that has caused this shift (which I would prefer not to discuss here 🙂 ) so today seems a grand day to review a horror novel I absolutely cherish.
I’m going to start though with the author. Jack Kilborn. I came across him at the end of 2009, when I picked up his debut novel, Afraid. It had come out in April, the Beneficient Overmind tells me, but I remember picking it up around Halloween from a display in my local bookstore.
I loved it. It was exactly the kind of dark romp I had been looking for, and it was damn good for a debut book. Which is when I found out that Jack Kilborn is, in fact, the pen name of author J.A. Konrath, and a name he uses for his horror books. I like to think he has some kind of Jekyll and Hyde thing going on.
So, knowing as we do that this ‘debut’ book had a bit of extra practice behind it, let’s talk about the actual novel.
So, here we go, and as usual, title first.
Afraid. It’s a great title for the book, seeing as half the characters spend half the book terrified, and reading it at night, it definitely brings a level of nervousness with it. I distinctly remember the novel giving me the same kind of really fun, really enjoyable sense of fear that all the best horror movies do.
The book is also the first of four, and I have to say I am afraid to read the other three… simply because I don’t want to lose the feeling and nostalgia this book gives me. It turned up in my life at just the right time, in the right circumstances to have the best effect on me it could… so maybe I should actually talk a little about the opening, and the plot.
The book opens with ‘The hunter’s moon, a shade of orange so dark it appeared to be filled with blood, hung fat and low over the mirror surface of Big Lake McDonald. Sal Morton took in a lungful of crisp Wisconsin air, shifted on his seat cushion, and cast his lucky 13 lure over the stern.’
It’s a decent setup. It’s night, we’re in Wisconsin, and our lead character right now is called Sal and a fisherman. It’s a clear night, everything is relaxed, but with a certain edge of melodrama just by the mention of the blood-red hunter’s moon. We know what we’re getting into, and so long as that’s what you’re looking for, you’re going to have a good time with the novel.
Three sentences later… a helicopter explodes and the book properly gets going. It doesn’t hang around, at least in terms of action, but one of the things that truly made me appreciate the novel was its pacing.
I don’t recall at any point in the book feeling bored. There was always something happening, something to look forward to or want answers for. But the horror and surreal violence don’t start for quite some time. Jack Kilborn takes his time building up to the true threat with a degree of mystery and theatre about anything else before the viscera and violence hit you in the face.
The plot, in my opinion, needs to be considered in the light of the time the book game out. It’s almost a decade old at this point, so when I sum the plot up as ‘secret black ops team goes rogue in rural America’, please do try not to roll your eyes so hard they fall out. In 2009, that was not so over-saturated a genre as it is now, though to be honest… even if Afraid came out today, I’d still like it just because it is so enjoyably paced and written.
To go into the plot in a bit more detail, a helicopter crashes in Wisconsin in a town cut off from the rest of the world. Something unspeakable is released, in the form of a special tactics unit pre-programmed to follow very simply orders: Isolate, Terrorize, Annihilate. A group of unlikely people will have to work together to overcome the threat, and deal with the fact that this ‘accident’ may not have been so accidental after all, and the town has been hiding a secret for years.
I know I’m only touching lightly on the plot here, especially compared to my other reviews, but Afraid is definitely one of those books that is ruined if you know too much about it before reading it yourself. And I love this book enough I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone.
We are treated to following several main characters across the story, all of them well written (if suffering from the usual horror problem of being surprisingly competent considering the odds), and seeing them come up against some truly wonderfully disgusting villains. And frankly, it’s the bad guys who make the story for me, even though I will say Kilborn writes everyone particularly well, especially the ten-year-old child.
Normally, I would detail the main players a little here, but I’m kind of loathe to do so, as the development and discovery of each person is integral to the enjoyment of the story. Afraid is horror at its core, and character progression is always a core factor in those kinds of stories.
What I can say, without feeling I risk ruining the book for people, is that the location is as much a character as any one person in the story, and I will be able to both visualize and cringe at just the local school gym for the rest of my life because of how well the book is written.
There is also an enhanced capuchin monkey called Alan Mathison Turing, so I’m not entirely sure how anyone who picks the book up could not like it.
Experience of Reading
Afraid is just plain fun. It’s nothing short of a written horror movie, expertly paced and laid out.
If you don’t like horror, gore or some rather visceral descriptions, you won’t like it. It goes to some dark places, and it will disturb people who don’t like the gene… but if a bit of mindless violence over a pretty good plot is your thing, Afraid is going to scratch every itch you have.
I recommend a tall glass of your favorite drink, dim lighting, an evening in and turning your phone off. Read it in one sitting, have some snacks, and then enjoy the creepy dreams when you finally go to bed.
I just hope you don’t live near a helicopter flight zone.