Seeking shelter from a massive rainstorm, two teenagers stumble into a psychopath’s hideout and must fight for their lives in McWhorter’s (Swallowing the Worm and Other Stories, 2015, etc.) gory debut novel.
Three teenage girls have gone missing in the sleepy town of New Paris, Ohio. Did they belong to a suicide cult? Or did they flee to new lives in New York City or Los Angeles? To escape these swirling rumors, high school seniors Luke and Garrett head out on a weekend fishing trip. Their chipper mood is soon interrupted by “menacing clouds, the color of gunmetal,” foreshadowing the violent downpour that follows. In the midst of the storm, Luke and Garrett’s boat breaks down, so they wander down eerily empty roads until they find a private driveway that leads to the run-down, abandoned New Congregational Church. At least it seems abandoned—upon closer inspection, Luke and Garrett discover an empty coffin in the middle of the sanctuary, simple drawings bearing the names of the missing girls, and a teenage girl they don’t recognize wearing a cheerleading uniform from their high school. Right after this discovery, Luke is knocked unconscious. He wakes up inside the coffin; outside, he hears the mysterious girl, who informs Luke that she and her father have been harvesting the bones of their victims. Luke manages to escape, and he unearths even more of the church’s grisly secrets as he struggles to survive a bloody cat-and-mouse game with the girl and her father. In this horror novel, McWhorter too often relies on his readers’ assumed knowledge of horror tropes to do his work for him—one character’s scream, for instance, “was like something out of a horror movie. Like nothing I’d ever heard.” Also, Luke’s narration tends to be somewhat vague and uninspired. However, McWhorter’s sections from the demented girl’s perspective are unforgettably creepy: “But, she knew her father’s work. She knew what his knives did to the human body and how much blood they brought out.”
An intermittently effective suspense tale that should satisfy die-hard horror buffs.