Light My Fire AKA a review of The Nightmare Girl by Jonathan Janz
Joe is a small town contractor with a wife and young daughter. One day while fueling up at the gas station he witnesses a young woman abusing her infant and intervenes, thus setting a terrifying series of events in motion.
This is my second read from Janz, the first being The Siren and The Specter, and I feel it's safe to say he is now one of my go to authors when I want a good old fashioned horror story. Joe is flawed, but not so much that you can't root for him, and not so little that he feels like one of those characters that we are told is flawed....yet never suffers because of those flaws. Where Janz seems to really go big is with his villains, there's no sympathetic monsters here, just truly awful people doing awful things turned all the way up to 11 (including, but not limited to child abuse, self immolation, harassment, attempted murder, human sacrifice, and cannibalism).
My absolute favorite character was easily police chief Darell Copeland. While some of the things he shared with Joe struck me as bit unrealistic, his conversations with Joe cracked me up, and the brightness of their friendship made the darkness feel all the darker. Now, a character I did have some troubles with was Joe's wife Michelle. She isn't awful by any means, but she hardly felt like a real character, and I found her more frustrating than anything. It seemed she only existed to have opposing views to Joe, and when his feelings changed, her opinions would change to be the opposite of his. This made her feel hypocritical at some points, and just unbelievable at others (I have friends who have suffered miscarriages, stillbirth, and struggled to have children, you'll find ZERO sympathy for parents who abuse their children amongst them EVER).
Where Janz succeeds the most is the climax. When it comes to a showdown he doesn't play one bit. There's no feeling let down or unimpressed. It's big, it's brutal, and he takes his time raising the stakes high, then higher, and higher still. This story doesn't culminate into a sudden sharp slash of a knife, but a long, drawn out beating that never slows down or feels dull.
In many ways this feels like the kind of horror story that could have been published during the paperback horror boom of the 70's, as much as a modern horror story, and that is a wonderful thing in my book. If you want a good, solid horror story, Janz should be one of your go to authors.