AE Press, 2015, 421 pages
Spanning over 100 years of mid-Michigan history, The Eaton tells the story of Sam Spicer, a young entrepreneur who purchases the dilapidated Michigan Central Railroad Depot in Eaton Rapids with the dream of opening a hot new martini bar. But when he and his friends discover an abandoned underground hotel directly beneath the property, they must discover what happened to the original guests—before their own time runs out.
The Eaton is the debut novel of John K. Addis, and combines a flashback-based narrative structure with the gruesome style of '80s horror classics, creating a unique new voice critics are calling "fresh, original, and truly terrifying."
(Mild spoilers below, though nothing that will surprise anyone who is even a little bit familiar with the genre.)
The Eaton is basically a classic monster tale, written for a generation that didn't grow up with classic monster tales like those that dominated the horror genre in the 80s. A young guy named Sam buys an old abandoned railroad depot in Michigan with plans to turn it into a trendy hipster bar, but as he and his friends check the place out, they find an ancient elevator going down. It turns out that there is an entire underground hotel, apparently built at the turn of the previous century, beneath the depot. Naturally, Sam and his friends have to go exploring, and naturally they discover something Very Bad.
So what you have is a gang of Millennial hipsters with all the piercings and relation drama one would expect descending into a death trap, from which only the Final Girl makes it back out. This really is a classic monster tale (the author cites horror novels of the 80s as his inspiration, but I'd go further back and suggest it is reminiscent of John Campbell's Who Goes There?), and if you like those, you will find The Eaton to be very satisfying in the manner of all popcorn entertainment. There is of course sex and violence, but the monster was my favorite part, as the author goes to more effort than usual to flesh it out and give it a personality even as it's racking up a body count. There is also some history as the story skips back and forth between the present day and the first discovery of the creature, back when the hotel was built.
Of course, the premise itself requires some major suspensions of disbelief even aside from the monster. A wealthy entrepreneur built a thirteen story hotel in the early 1900s, entirely underground, in secret? And this is all set up in such a way as to conveniently allow the monster to slaughter everyone who knew about it the first time around, so this giant secret underground hotel then remains undiscovered for another century. I'll give the story a plausibility pass, but it is not tightly constructed in its believability.
The writing is a step above schlocky — John Addis is no Stephen King, but I've read worse from more veteran authors.
One of the comments the author made in his afterword struck me — that many of his initial readers were surprised to discover that the monster was genuinely, unambiguously evil. His mostly 20-something audience is used to good and evil all being relative, and they expected the monster to be some sort of "response" to human evil. In fact, the monster does have its own rationale for doing things — it's not just a mindless bloodthirsty killer — but it's clearly evil.
A very entertaining debut novel that does not elevate the genre, but is certainly a worthy entry.
My complete list of book reviews.