Pinnacle, 2006, 472 pages
Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel
From a master of horror comes an apocalyptic showdown between the residents of a secluded, rural town and the deadly evil that confronts them wherever they turn.
Evil doesn’t die.
The cozy little town of Pine Deep buried the horrors of its past a long time ago. Thirty years have gone by since the darkness descended and the Black Harvest began, a time when a serial killer sheared a bloody swath through the quiet Pennsylvania village. The evil that once coursed through Pine Deep has been replaced by cheerful tourists getting ready to enjoy the country’s largest Halloween celebration in what is now called “The Spookiest Town in America.”
It just grows stronger.
But then—a month before Halloween—it begins. Unspeakably desecrated bodies. Inexplicable insanity. An ancient evil walks the streets, drawing in those who would fall to their own demons and seeking to shred the very soul of this rapidly fracturing community. Yes, the residents of Pine Deep have drawn together and faced a killer before. But this time, evil has many faces—and the lust and will to rule the earth. This struggle will be epic.
This is one of those books I'm inclined to mock for being obvious Hollywood-bait — it's all action and violence and thrills and cardboard characters, making it an easy book to film. Jonathan Maberry writes comic books too, which is appropriate given the melodramatic prose and prolonged fight scenes in Ghost Road Blues. That said, it's not a bad book, just not a great one. It's Maberry's first book and he's trying too hard to be Stephen King.
Thirty years ago, a serial killer terrorized the small town of Pine Deep. In the prologue, we meet the Bone Man, an itinerant blues-playing black man who discovered who the killer was and killed him, before being caught by a bunch of racist cops, who proceed to beat him to death on the assumption that he's the killer. But like the killer, he'll be back, if only as a ghost to warn the nice white folks. Hello Magical Negro — yes, Stephen King does that too, but there are some habits of the master that might be worth not emulating, ya know?
Thirty years later, Pine Deep has recovered in a perfectly sensible way for a traumatized town that was the location of a series of grisly horrific murders — it hosts "haunted hay rides" featuring actors dismembering each other in staged serial killer attacks, zombie onslaughts, etc. Okay, that part is actually believable. People are fucked that way. Pine Deep has become famous and makes a ton of tourist money during the Halloween season.
However, as the voice of the Big Bad keeps reminding us over and over and over and over and over again (Maberry has "spooky" voices repeating ominous things a lot), "Evil doesn't die. It just grows stronger."
So the first problem is that while it's ostensibly a supernatural thriller, most of the evil in this book is of the strictly human kind. There is a trio of criminals on the run from a drug deal gone bad and they just happen to break down in Pine Deep. There is "Tow Truck Eddie" who hears God talking to him and telling him to kill "the Beast" — he goes from functional crazy guy hearing voices in his head to cannibal playing with intestines, 0 to 60. There is the mechanic who regularly beats his wife and stepson (who is your All American boy with a paper route, fantasizing about being a superhero). All of these villains are super-fit bad-asses with internal monologues that don't vary much. The bad guys are all psychopathic monsters with no motivation other than being evil for the sake of evil 'cause evil. Even the abusive stepdad — he's not just a wife and child-beater, not just a minion of the Big Bad who also inexplicably has half the police department in his pocket, but he also publishes a white supremacist newsletter, just in case all the other stuff didn't make him evil enough. Seriously, none of the bad guys have motivations that go deeper than "I like to hurt people 'cause I'm evil."
The promised Big Bad is mostly an unfulfilled promise by the end of the book, because this is the first book in a trilogy and we're meant to read on to find out what happens when the darkness rises. I, however, am probably not going to bother. The author moves his characters around like pawns to position them for the next book, but I didn't really care about the good guys, and the bad guys aren't very interesting. There are a couple of twists that are more "Huh?" than interesting, and they don't even do much for the plot.
This was strictly a middle-of-the-road book for me. I didn't dislike it, I didn't like it, it passed a few hours, and if you like horror that's not particularly demanding, it's acceptable entertainment. But there was nothing new, nothing scary, and certainly no flashes of brilliant writing. I won't say I won't try Jonathan Maberry again, but this series doesn't tempt me.
If you like this kind of book, I recommend the vastly superior Southern Gods instead. Or Stephen King — duh!
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