This is a straightforward supernatural horror story. It isn’t the sort of thing I would usually read, but the author contacted me and asked if I might be interested in reviewing it. I read the first couple of pages and found myself immediately drawn into the tale, so I agreed to take a look.
What made this story work for me was the detailed and credible scene-setting. Our hero is first shown at home with his wife and two kids. It’s very well written and you warm to all the characters. The approach reminds me of Spielberg’s classic movies. Before we meet the aliens, we spend time getting to know the main characters in their everyday normal lives.
Eventually, of course, we find the supernatural intruding when a mysterious mirror is delivered to the home in the middle of the night. Now we have a classic, ‘Don’t go alone to the haunted mansion’ moment. Obviously if you receive an old mirror with no indication of where it came from, the thing to do is to lock in in a shed until you can get the local priest to exorcise it. But no: they hang it on the wall.
Spooky things follow, rather nicely described. The loft is over-run by rabid racoons and other critters, huge poisonous spiders appear in the fuse box. The horror is real but it can all be explained away – and is. ‘No, you fools! Run now! Run for your lives!’ But, despite living with what is pretty obviously an interdimensional portal, everyone just goes along with normal life until the Truly Evil Thing comes to do what Truly Evil Things do.
I’m not giving details because Spoilers, but, in any case, it’s not immediately clear what the Truly Evil Thing is doing because the details are deliberately left vague. Vague is good in horror. The things you glimpse from the corners of your eyes are always scarier than the hi-res CGI creations that fill your vision.
Sadly, all horror stories have to have some sort of resolution. Here, this is mediated through a mysterious Native American who hops through time, putting an end to Truly Evil Things. For reasons of plot, the mysterious Native American can’t directly kill the Evil Things himself, but has to recruit others to act on his behalf. Fortunately our hero is an expert sniper (a detail already carefully set up in the story) and it is for him to do the actual killing and hence save his family.
At this point we are introduced to a powerful but secret group of people who assist the Native American. This is exciting but also somehow mundane. Our hero, up to then a wonderfully detailed three-dimensional character, is now reduced to a comic book hero. The Truly Evil Thing has to emerge from the shadows to be defeated and turns out to be something you might well have seen in one of the less memorable episodes of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.
I don’t blame the author for all this. It’s the rules of the genre which mean that, paradoxically, the climactic moments of action are always the least convincing, uninteresting parts of the book. In fact, Chris Coppel pulls it off because the amount of detail that we’ve had before we move into standard horror territory means that we are invested enough in the characters to ignore the hoariness of the horror tropes that Coppel has to deploy to make the plot work. That, as far as I’m concerned, is very impressive writing.
The story is clearly setting up for a series. I don’t think I’ll be back for more (it really isn’t the sort of thing I’d usually read) but, based on this opening story, I think the sequels could be rather good.