Bell Bridge Books, 2014, 204 pages
Apple, Massachusetts is rotten to the core.
Every fall, when the orchards ripen and the leaves begin to die, there are murders. We know it, and we accept it. It's the price we pay for living in Apple. Families mourn, but no one is ever caught. Now, there's a body in the woods, and the cycle is starting again. People bruise easily in Apple.
Finding a murdered and mutilated girl plunges Jackson Gill into the middle of a decades-old horror. For Jackson, the newest murders become personal.
When sick, cryptic predictions prove true, Jackson will have to believe the unthinkable and stop what no one has been able to stop in sixty years.
He has no choice. He lives in Bloody Bloody Apple.
BookBub is mostly crap, but among the self-published and small press books are some occasional unpolished gems, and there are also good deals when larger publishers drop a backlist book for sale there.
In the former category is Bloody Bloody Apple. I was really not expecting much from it, but for 99 cents it was worth a shot.
Apple is a small town in Massachusetts in which a series of gruesome killings have become an annual event. The inhabitants have grown to accept it as part of their dreary, impoverished lives, and while I never quite found their behavior entirely realistic (there is the sense that the entire town is playing a game of "If I close my eyes, you can't see me"), it was somewhat believable that people who feel trapped find it easier to just duck their heads and hope they're not next than to actually try to change things. The police are Sunnydale cops — i.e., stupid and incompetent — and the genre is slasher flick, therefore a small town that suffers from annual spectacularly bloody murders by a serial killer never attracts outside interest.
Once the author dives into the lives of Apple's inhabitants, including the first-person narrator, Jackson, Apple becomes a place in which a serial killer leaving body parts all over may not be the grimmest thing in town.
Howard Odentz is trying to work Stephen King's beat here, writing small town local flavor in which deep, dark secrets aren't so deep, every family is dysfunctional, and being a teenager is pretty horrific even without people you know being randomly slaughtered.
Jackson, your typical angry young high school student, has more reasons than most to be angry. His mother is almost catatonic with depression, his grandfather is wheelchair-bound and senile, his father has become a brooding religious fanatic, and his sister is locked in the basement, having gone completely insane. (Or, according to their father, possessed.)
His girlfriend Annie and his best friend Newie, whose father is the police chief, don't have much better home lives. But they get dragged into Apple's bloody tradition when they discover one of the bodies, and then Jackson's sister Becky starts whispering things that only the killer could know.
There are a few red herrings laid out in this book, particularly with regard to whether or not there is actually anything supernatural going on. The ending, in which the killer is revealed in a climactic, bloody, and improbable finale worthy of any Scream installment, makes sense given the clues, though once you put everything together, there is a major suspension of disbelief required.
But Bloody Bloody Apple is pure grade-B horror novel, working all the tropes and playing them straight, so don't expect strict realism. While there is a touch of King in the small town East Coast vibe and the evil in the hearts of ordinary people, much stronger influences were clearly Scream, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and every other teen slasher movie ever.
Jackson is about as likable as any teenage boy - which is to say, not very - but his situation and his temperament is as believable as it can be given the premise. This is not a particular clever or subversive take on the genre, but if you like the kind of bloody thrillers where the big questions are both "Whodunit?" and "Who's gonna get it?" then this is a quick, bloody read.
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