In Drago’s debut novel, an insidious horror reveals itself in a small North Carolina town.
The town of Crow Creek is experiencing two tragedies: In the dramatic foreground, a massive sinkhole has suddenly opened up on King Street, swallowing cars and businesses and very nearly some citizens; in the background, the town has seen an inordinate number of inexplicable suicides in recent years. The sinkhole, which naturally takes precedence, opens underneath the normal day-to-day lives of a well-drawn cast of characters, including loutish Stan “Krully” Krulikowski, a branch manager at Crow Creek Savings; and Sheriff Brad Gleason, who’s taking care of his father, the previous sheriff. (Drago writes of the old man’s decline into senility with memorable sensitivity.) Gleason is the kind of guy that others turn to in times of crisis, but his young daughter Maddie was one of the town’s suicides two years ago (“She drove up to Ninth Street on lunch break one afternoon, waited for a Southern Railways freight car, and ended her life. Plain and simple. Left her keys in the ignition with the car running”), and he’s as puzzled as everyone else in town about what’s driving so many people to take their own lives. Those deaths are regularly commemorated by the town’s enigmatic cleric, Pastor Aken, and Drago develops Aken’s darkness so skillfully that by the time readers actually meet the pastor in person, it’s no surprise that he’s the villain of the story. As Sheriff Gleason agonizes over hearing the disembodied voice of his dead daughter, the author grippingly weaves issues of faith and the afterlife into his bubbling plot. Drago’s major literary influence is fairly obvious; the small town of quirky locals, the dogged teamwork amid adversity, and the compelling, central figure of evil are very much Stephen King’s territory. However, Drago navigates this terrain with considerable skill and a good ear for dialogue and deadpan humor.
A brisk, accomplished horror debut from an author to watch.