Inkshares, 2017, 416 pages
At the end of a dark prairie road, nearly forgotten in the Kansas countryside, is the Finch House. For years it has remained empty, overgrown, abandoned. Soon the door will be opened for the first time in decades. But something is waiting, lurking in the shadows, anxious to meet its new guests....
When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in one of the country's most infamous haunted houses, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won't be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt will become a fight for survival. The entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them a part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek.
It's easy to see the literary parentage of this book: a group of investigators spend a couple of nights in a haunted house, and bloody shenanigans ensue. Shirley Jackson wasn't even the first to do this, though The Haunting of Hill House is probably the most famous in the genre, and still one of the best. But Scott Thomas's debut novel Kill Creek still manages to retell this tale with enough verve and and new twists to make it entertaining.
In Kill Creek, it's not paranormal investigators or psychics or skeptics investigating the creepy old Finch House: it's a quartet of horror authors, brought here by an Internet millionaire who offered them a bunch of money to do it as a publicity stunt. Each author comes with his or her own reasons, and baggage.
One of the most interesting parts of the book was trying to figure out which real-life authors Thomas was basing his fictional contemporaries on. T.C. Moore is the chick, who writes raw, profane, pornographic horror, heavy on the sex and violence. The ironically-named Daniel Slaughter is a wholesome church-going family man who writes for a Christian audience: his horror novels depict horror as a consequence of sin, with evil always being punished in the end. He worries about losing his audience for going "too dark." Sebastian Cole is the horror emeritus, an old man whose books are classics of the genre, but whose name is receding onto the back shelves of dusty old used bookstores. And Sam McGarver is the up-and-coming contemporary bestseller, who's going through a nasty period of writer's block and marital disharmony.
Having read a fair amount of horror myself, I could certainly make my guesses about which real-life author each character is supposed to represent, though I'm sure Thomas didn't mean them to directly correspond to any real people, just made them composites of identifiable figures. But putting them through their paces, especially when they start critiquing each other's styles, must have been almost as big a meta-fictional kick for the horror author writing about big-name horror authors as proceeding to subject them to the horrors of an evil house.
While nothing was, strictly speaking, original (all the horror elements, all the supernatural twists, all the deaths and the who-will-go-nuts and who-will-survive guessing games, have been seen many times before), I still liked this all the way through even when I saw some twists coming. And the twist at the end was, again, in some ways predictable (standard horror trope) but still executed very well, and chillingly so. Scott Thomas is definitely a name to look out for in future.
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