Gallery Books, 2017, 496 pages
From electrifying horror author Nick Cutter comes a haunting new novel, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and Stephen King's It, in which a trio of mismatched mercenaries is hired by a young woman for a deceptively simple task: check in on her nephew, who may have been taken against his will to a remote New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. Shortly after they arrive, things begin to turn ominous. Stirrings in the woods and over the treetops - the brooding shape of a monolith known as the Black Rock casts its terrible pall. Paranoia and distrust grips the settlement. The escape routes are gradually cut off as events spiral towards madness. Hell - or the closest thing to it - invades Little Heaven. The remaining occupants are forced to take a stand and fight back, but whatever has cast its dark eye on Little Heaven is now marshaling its powers...and it wants them all.
Nick Cutter looks to be trying to carve out a Stephen King-like niche, and while his style isn't really King, you can see the influence. Slice-of-life family portraits as a prelude to existential horror, bit characters whose life stories are suddenly illustrated for us in gritty, detailed flashbacks just before that character suffers a grisly demise, and horrific monsters that are vaguely formed blobs of black unspeakable evil with a variety of powers emerging as the plot requires.
Little Heaven starts in the 1960s. A group of unlikely mercenaries — a black Englishman named Ebenezer, a female bounty hunter named Minerva, and a rough hired gun named Micah — are all thrown together by happenstance thanks to a drug dealer who wanted two of them to kill the third. All three of them survive, though unbeknownst to two of the three, a third has a grudge going back to childhood that can only be satisfied by blood.
Then they wind up being hired by a woman whose nephew has disappeared in a religious retreat in the woods called "Little Heaven." The religious retreat seems like any other such encampment created by a bunch of Bible-thumpers led by a charismatic Reverend Jones-type huckster; mostly decent if naive and easily led folks seeking an escape from the sins of Babylon (in this case, appropriately, San Francisco, the city from which they fled). But all of them are becoming aware that there are things in the woods, and when Eb, Minnie, and Micah arrive, they soon become aware of it too.
The things are inhuman and can mess with your mind as well as your body. The end of Little Heaven is bloody and horrific, full of monstrous and human evil alike.
In the second act, fifteen years later, Eb, Minnie and Micah have to go back, because the thing in the woods has taken Micah's daughter.
In some ways, this is a traditional monster horror novel — there's an evil, inhuman thing with lots of disgusting minions and it kills people in gruesome, violent ways. It's not just a slasher killer, though — it's an Ancient Evil ™ with dark appetites, but at times a kind of pathos about it. The most disgusting horror often comes from what people do to each other under its influence — here is where the Stephen King influence comes in, as we get glimpses into the broken childhoods and miserable adulthoods of people who becomes murderers and cult leaders or just hapless victims.
The ending is uncertain, a typically dark Fate Worse Than Death, limned by a faint note of hope (and hints of a sequel).
I didn't like Little Heaven quite as much as I liked Cutter's The Troop, but this was still a meaty and visceral horror novel very suitable for October reading, and plenty to keep you jumping at bumps in the night if that is the sort of thing that scares you. Be warned that this is a very violent, gory book, so if you like your horror to be more suspense and less buckets of blood, you might want to pass.
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Also by Nick Cutter: My review of The Troop.
My complete list of book reviews.