DISCLOSURE: I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.
Starting with the opening paragraph, and building steadily throughout, the following set the tone and mood quite nicely:
“Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads played on the jukebox of the diner. The Last Stop Diner looked like it was straight out of the 1950s, except dirtier and grimier. So, I suppose you could say it was like a diner straight out of the 1950s with several decades of use since then. The chair vinyl was frayed, the waitress looked surlier than a grizzly bear, and the patronage was a
mixture of truckers as well as meth-heads. It was the sort of place that if you said there was a psycho killer present, most people would just nod and say, “Yep, sounds about right.” Really, I should be offended.
Set firmly in the same world as books like Straight Outta Fangton
and I Was a Teenage Weredeer, author C.T. Phipps set out to write something unlike anything he’s written so far. In my opinion, he succeeded in spades.
Said world, also known as The United States of Monsters, was inarguably a grimdark one. That subgenre, personally, is about much more than gratuitous violence and other controversial subject matter like rape, though there’s plenty of that there. You’ll find no rape here, thankfully. Rather, grimdark works best when it’s concerned with morally gray characters. That’s my favorite aspect of the genre, and it was on full display here.
Which shouldn’t be too surprising. The main characters, William and Carrie England, are killers. Genetically modified slashers. In Psycho Killers in Love, (a rare standalone novel from the author,) the reader is fully immersed in the inner workings of their totally screwed up lives, and the essence of their current locale (Wounded Buffalo, Kansas, population 134,) was exemplified.
This wasn’t your typical horrific romp whose intention was an homage to the slasher films of the 1980’s, though it is that. It’s also eldrich horror with Lovecraftian elements. Within those confines, you’ll discover supernatural abilities and the bizarre and/or uncanny in general. In The United States of Monsters, the paranormal aren’t an anomaly; beings such as vampires, demons, weredeer, the Elder Gods, Red Gods, revenants (not the same as draugr or zombies,) are more natural than not. All that, and more, in a work that’s technically a prequel to the other books set in TUSoM universe.
Horror writers had a long history of incorporating real life monsters, folklore, and urban legends into their stories. There had been real life inspirations as far back as The Murders at Rue Morgue and they’d made movies out of most of my father’s “friends” from the Eighties. Stephen King, though, as far as I knew, was completely original in his inspirations.
But what if killing wasn’t a question of morality or free will? What if it was something imbedded into your DNA, something you were born with like eye color or one’s physical appearance? And what if the slashers depicted in iconic films such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street were actually based on real life slashers and not fictitious? These were some of the questions posed by Phipps. They were also some of my favorite aspects.
Speaking of morality, is killing still wrong if you’re murdering worse individuals than yourself? For example, pedophiles, sex traffickers, or murderers of children? The ethical questions posed throughout Psycho Killers, albeit rather subtly, were a significant source of joy and fascination for me. I loved it.
For very different reasons, I adored the three main characters, but I loved Nancy the most. Her infectious personality, alongside her quirky idiosyncrasies, rarely ceased to make me smile or laugh. When I wasn’t smiling or giggling, I was saddened by her upbringing, which was, to some extent, avoidable. Could it have been avoided, though? Even if she wasn’t indoctrinated, was her future in the hands of fate, or a result of personal choice? I was similarly impacted by Will and Carrie’s backstory, and in many ways, it was much worse. Without going into details, it was downright tragic.
All of which says a lot because Phipps, in general, doesn’t take his fiction too seriously. Not on an emotional level, at least. For a somewhat jaded reader like myself to feel that loss, that pathos, as well as a myriad of other emotions– that really speaks volumes. That was incredibly impressive.
Lamia is the Mother of all Monsters,” I replied. “She’s as close to a supervillain as exists in the world. It’s her goal to unleash hell upon Earth. I mean that literally instead of figuratively. Her history has been ten thousand years of human sacrifice, plagues, locusts, war, and debauchery. All in the service of the Elder Gods.”<\I>
Aside from some line editing issues (repeated words next to each other and incongruous words,) my only critique revolves around Lamia. (view spoiler) Not that I’m a glutton (okay, maybe a little,) but it is horror, after all.
The ending (Epilogue) was really cool and well-thought-out, and despite its standalone status, Phipps left it open-ended. I clearly envision more books to come, and I’m very eager for more adventures with Will, Carrie, and Nancy.
*4.5 rounded up to 5 stars*