When intrepid teen reporter Tom Harding wakes in a fog- and monster-filled nightmare version of his Southern California town, his only ways out are truth or death.
Through the central story of Tom’s waking in the warped version of his town and flashback interludes of the weeks immediately preceding the primary narrative, Klavan (If We Survive, 2013, etc.) allows readers to piece together a spiritual mystery concerning what has happened in the time between the stories. In the interludes, Tom exposes his school’s beloved championship football team’s steroid use, gaining him both enemies and the admiration of his childhood crush. In the immediate narrative, Tom must discover what’s happening before monsters kill him. The few other characters present adamantly give him conflicting advice—from the grave, in one case—through foreshadowed plot twists and betrayals. Fans of survival-horror video games will recognize story structures and motifs (cellphones, televisions and radios turning from innocuous to frightening); these techniques transfer well to the written medium. A memory-loss device is most effective in its first use but becomes tedious. The biggest weakness, however, comes in flat characters and virtuous Tom’s weak emotional arc. Luckily, the creepy atmosphere ebbs and flows, keeping a good rhythm up until the very end—a tidy, if slightly campy wrap-up.
Uneven but forgivable given how fast, easy and freaky it is. (Survival horror. 11-15)