Posted on March 23, 2009 by Flames
One word describes the first novel from author Jack Kilborn: relentless. Much like the works of Jim Butcher and David Morrell, Kilborn’s premiere work, AFRAID, is non-stop tension. Each section break, while short, somehow manages to ratchet up the suspense to the point that you wonder how much more you can take. You won’t want to put the book down once you start it and a small part of you will wonder what possessed you to pick it up in the first place. The story is a non-stop horror ride…once on, you can’t get off.
The story centers on Safe Haven, Wisconsin, a small town that prefers its privacy over even economic depression. Snowbirds flee south for the winter, leaving the 900+ full-time residents to their quiet, peaceful place of fishing and relaxation. That is, until what appears to be a helicopter crash ignites a world of trouble for every one of the town’s 900 inhabitants.
The main characters are 70-year-old Sheriff Streng, three weeks from retirement, Josh VanCamp, a young firefighter dealing with the loss of his fiancé and the desire to save people as a paramedic-in-training and Fran Stauffer, a single mother whose husband had earlier been killed in a traffic accident, leaving her and their ten-year-old son, Duncan, emotionally scarred. Through their eyes (and half-a-dozen other peripheral characters), we witness the horrors that can befall those unprepared. The attacks, when they come, are lightning quick…yet seem to last for hours. Gripping stuff!
From page one of AFRAID, author Kilborn grabs the reader and refuses to let go. The story slowly, methodically unfolds even as the body count rises. The gruesome factor rises exponentially as the story heads toward its violent climax, but the real horror, the real suspense, comes from those scenes where the information is doled out in tidbits, allowing the mind to fill in the gaps…and it is guaranteed that those gaps will eventually be filled with the most awful things imaginable. It is to Kilborn’s credit, however, that he manages to come up with horrors that make even the unimaginable feel tame.
The antagonists, (yes, there are multiple baddies), gain brief moments of humanity before they are snuffed out by the monsters they’ve become. There are moments of pure beauty, selfless heroism and several scenes that, were this to be a movie, would illicit screams of pandemonious glee and gut-wrenching terror. AFRAID, as a novel, does pretty much the same thing. It is exhausting. I didn’t want to put it down and yet, at the same time, I wanted to fling it across the room and run screaming from it. The words are visceral. You can see the enemy approaching, smell the burning flesh, taste the blood, feel the knife slither across your skin and hear the sounds of your heart thumping madly in your chest. Yes, the book is that good.
This may be Kilborn’s first novel, but he writes with the assuredness of a seasoned veteran. That is not to say this is a perfect book. The characters are not as fully-rendered as I would have liked and the nasties felt, at first, contrived and dull. However, like a pro, Kilborn takes these quibbles and sets them aside, due mostly to the frenetic pace of his story, the bareness of his prose and, in the end, our personal desire to see good triumph over evil. The realization that we humans are capable of atrocities similar to what are revealed throughout this book permeate the soul long after the last words are read, much like mold over rotting food. It is a bitter pill to swallow, that we are capable of such great good and yet, perform such hideousness upon one another. Both sides of that coin get equal billing here.
Get AFRAID and be afraid. Then hold on tightly for a ride you will both want to jump off…and ride again and again.
Review by Joe Rixman