Drago follows up his debut novel (Crow Creek, 2014) with another tale of small-town horror in the tradition of Stephen King.
Drago’s adroit and adrenaline-fueled second novel begins when a gaunt man in a hospital gown staggers into a small-town diner and begins vomiting “dark gristle.” The man has empty sockets where his eyes should be, and his body is studded with electrode ports. And as fast as you can say “illicit genetic experimentation,” we learn the man had once been an employee of EnTech, an experimental microbiology outfit located in the North Carolina town of Queensboro. EnTech is run by Drago’s truly hissable villainess, Margaret Ganis, who has “a high tuft of snow white hair and an unmistakable vascular birthmark across the left side of her face that looked like a red harpy’s wing” and whose skin “seems to bubble under the surface with tiny maggots.” When a local girl named Ashley Smith goes missing and some townsfolk assemble to search for her, they’re shockingly introduced to yet more evidence of dark biological tampering: seal-sized “death worms” that can suck the blood out of a grown human in seconds. Drago expertly balances the visceral thrills of such inhuman creatures against the far more premeditated evils of Ganis and her law enforcement henchman, Sheriff Waylon Osbourne, a hugely fat and wisecracking prominent Klan member who is, against all odds, the most enjoyable of the novel’s many well-drawn characters. Drago incorporates the cast (and some events) from his first novel so seamlessly that this book can be read independently, and although he still relies a bit too heavily on an array of Stephen King–style gimmicks (overly simplistic local yokels, especially; actual small-town residents will have to read this stuff with the usual forbearance), his dialogue crackles with wit, and his sense of dramatic pacing never fails him. In traditional horror-genre style, Drago orchestrates a climactic confrontation between the forces of good and evil that leaves much of Queensboro in ruins—and will leave readers very much wanting more from this author.
A thoroughly effective horror page-turner from an author who’s mastered the genre.