When fictional murders become the blueprints for actual killings, where is the line between imagination and reality?
Sixteen-year-old Maddie Davenport (nicknamed “Saint Maddie” by peers who see her as a goody-goody) and her best friend, Chelsea Park, hike deep into the mountains to camp with friends and family. Away from their comfortable suburban homes, Chelsea goads Maddie into chasing after the group’s attractive trail guide, Caleb. Soon, the quiet wilderness brings out other thrills, such as a rocky relationship between two older teens, smuggled cannabis, and underage drinking. Each night, the group also gathers around the campfire to share spooky stories. In one, mountain men kill intruders on their land by carving antlers into the victims’ foreheads. As campers are mysteriously and gruesomely murdered in ways that mimic the plots of these oral tales, readers will wonder if the group is truly alone in the mountains. Or, is there a serial killer among them? Sarles’ debut focuses heavily on plot, resulting in flat characters. The embedded campfire stories are clearly delineated by chapter titles but clumsily integrated into the rest of the story. Though justified within the world of the novel, the killers’ motives border on cliché. The cast assumes a white default, but Maddie has a biracial (white/Korean) cousin.
Slasher film fans will want to gather round the fire; others should hike elsewhere. (Horror. 13-adult)