CHILDLIKE by John Pepper


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An investigative reporter and his friend close in on a father and daughter who hunt humans so she can have fresh blood to drink.

Eleven-year-old Amanda Chaffee is hungry. Since birth, she’s needed blood meals to survive. Why this is so or how her father (her mother having died in labor) was able to divine this from a nonverbal infant is frustratingly never explained. In any case, the birds, small animals and house pets that had satiated her no longer suffice. Since her eighth birthday, Amanda has been feeding on homeless victims killed by her father. Now, three years later, bodies of homeless men—throats cut, blood drained—are showing up in the East River, and investigative reporter Solomon Earl is determined to pursue the story, as he tells his friend Andrew Morton. Morton is more concerned with the pressure he faces from his girlfriend and her family to pop the question, but he gets involved after Earl, having been hit by a car when chasing the Chaffees, asks for help. As Morton pursues leads and Amanda is left on her own, things become increasingly grisly. Although Pepper has notable facility as a writer, his debut novel presents a world full of unlikable characters doing unlikely things. Seeing his quarries attacking an innocent homeless man, Earl rushes toward them but not with thoughts of rescue: “The beginnings of an erection. This story…and the possibility of national recognition sent blood rushing to his penis. He’d go home and masturbate if all went well.” Melodramatic overreactions add a ludicrous note. Upon learning his girlfriend is in imminent danger, for example, “Morton staggered backward in a drunken stupor, failing to set his legs under him….The walls, floor and ceiling…undulated before his very eyes. The ground crumbled and lurched, the earth shifting below him….He stood exposed without tethers over a deep crevice of blackness and despair.” Instead of calling 911, Morton takes a taxi from Manhattan to Tuckhoe, N.Y., in a snowstorm. Gratuitous scenes sometimes go beyond believability, as when Amanda manages to kill and drag home a department-store Santa, then pack him with snow in the bathtub. Despite this decent preservation technique, the next day, “[b]its and pieces of skin floated lazily to the surface….Dissolving strands of Santa’s hip wrapped around her wrist.” Also, the far-fetched conclusion remains unresolved and unsatisfying.

A gruesome take on the vampire story for gross-out horror fans only.

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 2012
Page count: 406pp
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Program: Kirkus Indie
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