“If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise!”
When I started the whole search for the hair-raising thing a few months back, I trotted around various blogs specialising in horror to get some names of contemporary authors, and Graham Masterton’s name came up repeatedly. So when this book became available on NetGalley it seemed ideal to be this week’s…
Standing up to her waist in the middle of the pool was a woman with no head. She was wearing a white T-shirt, the front of which was heavily stained with blood and with the green and black juices of putrescence. The three-inch stump of her neck was like a volcano erupting – not with lava, but with maggots…
A group of scouts and their leaders go off for a camping weekend in a forest in Owasippe, Michigan. But while there, something happens that makes them all commit suicide, often in bloodily horrific ways. One of the scouts was the friend of young Sparky Wallace, a 12-year-old with Asperger’s (hasn’t every fictional child these days?), who becomes obsessed with the need to know what caused the tragedy. So his father Jack starts off on a journey that takes him from Owasippe to the Kampinos Forest in Poland where Jack’s great-grandfather had died in similar circumstances during the war.
This story is firmly based in the supernatural so it’s necessary to leave your inner sceptic at the door. As the story unfolds, we become aware that there is something living in our forests that has the ability to drive people into such panic that they would rather kill themselves than wait for the horrific death they fear awaits them. Sparky seems to know more than he’s telling and uses his (remarkable) knowledge of astrology to see what future lies in the stars for himself and the other protagonists. Unfortunately he rarely tells them, so each time one ends up dead, Sparky rather annoyingly says something like ‘I knew that was going to happen.’ (I found I was developing an unfortunate but overwhelming desire to slap him upside the head as the story progressed.)
The book is well written but a little over-stretched and repetitive which prevents the tension building as much as it might have done. The characterisation is quite strong with both Jack and Sparky coming over as credible and well-rounded, despite Sparky’s supernatural tendencies, which get stronger as the book goes on. But these are integral to the story, and in that context work well.
Leaves and dust and twigs and pine needles came whirling through the tress like a blizzard, and Jack had to close his eyes tightly to prevent himself from being blinded. The trees began to creak again, in a terrible off-key chorus, and the birds started screeching. He felt as if the entire forest was telling him to get out, and to run for his life.
It would be easy to pick holes in the plot, since some of them are pretty glaring – but really the book is more about creating an atmosphere than trying to tell a consistent story. If I have to accept that mysterious wood-spirits have been lurking in our forests for aeons, then I can surely also accept that Jack is the most gullible and easily confused man who ever existed. The aforesaid mysterious wood-spirits are quite effective as spooky creations go, although the author tries to fit an environmental message into their story which doesn’t really work. It’s all a bit hazy as to whether they’re really filled with good intentions towards humanity or just particularly nasty evil creatures – but on the evidence of the number of gore-splattered bodies that mount up during the course of the book, I’m going with the latter. Having said that, the gore isn’t excessively done – there are only a couple of incidents where it’s directly described and overall I found it more giggleworthy than gruesome.
I do have one serious objection about the story, which is that the author has incorporated into the plot a real massacre that took place in Kampinos Forest during WW2, and that struck me as pretty tasteless and entirely unnecessary.
Otherwise I found this a well-written and reasonably enjoyable supernatural romp – not to be taken too seriously. I can’t say I found it terribly scary but there were places where the author did build up an effective atmosphere. So recommended – but really to fans of horror only.
Fretful porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯
Overall story rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Severn House.