"Campfire" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Jimmy Patterson
Written by Scott Sarles
2018, 304 pages, Fiction
Released on July 17th, 2018
Does the horror world really need mass production authors such as James Patterson muscling in on the action with their own brands? You’re entitled to your own opinion, personally I would rather a trip to the dentist than be forced to read a Patterson novel. Campfire is a Young Adult (YA) title released under the banner of James Patterson Presents, so we can presume his involvement was zero with the exception of the 110-word (I counted) introduction on why he loves campfire stories. The more cynical of you out there may even wonder whether “Jimmy”, as he presents himself here, genuinely wrote this measly and uninspiring opening.
Thus far there are five other unconnected books in the Jimmy Patterson Books for Young Adult Readers series and since the author has a non-existent reputation in the horror world, I wonder why his publisher thinks his name might convert into hits? If they plug enough cash into it, anything is possible, but more importantly, is their product good enough? We’ll get to that shortly.
The cover of Campfire, the debut novel of Shaun Sarles, instantly recalls the glory days of eighties and nineties Point Horror and Goosebumps. I’m sure those behind this novel would be absolutely delighted to replicate the success of trashy classics many of us read as kids, The Babysitter, Teacher’s Pet, The Snowman to name a few, or the many similar titles Christopher Pike also churned out. Campfire is right up the same street as those titles from yesteryear and is an entertaining, fast-paced, but ultimately one-dimensional horror novel. However, that’s not necessarily a criticism, let’s not forget, Point Horror specialised in one dimensional pot boilers! Sometimes horror does not have to be especially deep and for a bored 12-14-year-old. This tale of a camping weekend gone wrong could be a fun distraction from their handheld devices.
Maddie, her family, and her best friend are on a camping trip when things take a wrong turn. At a certain point these odd goings-on are connected to short-story interludes which are told around the evening campfire and after the first death, everyone is a suspect. Flashbacks to Maddie’s past and her family secrets are also an integral part of the story, which are well handled. This was a very easy to read book and I’m sure some kids will whizz through it in no time trying to predict the next twist or victim. It’s one of those novels where the killer ends up being the last person you expect it to be; at a certain point you might even be forgiven for expecting Scoobie’s Mystery Machine to stage a rescue! Expect some ridiculous twists and turns, which I’m sure a teen audience might lap up.
Maddie is an engaging lead character and the story opens with a prologue in which she is eleven-years-old and being bullied by classmate Chelsea, who later becomes her best friend and camping buddy. How the tormentor becomes Maddie’s best friend is a strong part of the story, and although both girls are sixteen, everything is relatively innocent and reminiscent of the old Point Horror stories previously mentioned.
Campfire is presented in chapters, however when one of the campfire stories is told, they are given separate names, including “Beware when the fair comes to town”, which is about a man-eating bear, and "Red Raven”, set in a sinister hospital. None of these three stories are particularly memorable, which is a shame, as it is a significant part of the plot. Events which occur in the three stories then seem to become reality in the campsite. Is there really a killer bear or another creature out there stalking them or is it someone else with a different agenda?
One could argue that since the days of Point Horror YA horror has moved on considerable and there are many authors pushing the boundaries with challenging, layered, and intelligent teenage fiction. This is not one of those novels and does not try to be. However, there is still the need for fun, ridiculous, pass the time easy-to-read page-turners and that is the strength of Campfire.