"Children of the Dark" Book Review
Written by Jonathan Lees
Published by Sinister Grin Press
Written by Jonathan Janz
2016, 293 pages, Fiction
Released on March 15th, 2016
As a native of Massachusetts, I am familiar with the idea that horrific violence can begin with harsh words exchanged after a baseball game. GO SOX! So is author Jonathan Janz, who uses the setting to introduce a cast of well-drawn characters and approach an issue we are all too familiar with: cruelty and violence from the hands, and mouths, of children.
Will Burgess would have had a rough lot in life just dealing with his deadbeat single mom, abandonment by his father, taking care of his baby sister and other problems stemming from post-puberty blues, but he also has to contend with a trio of local bullies. Of course, Will has made it a bit more difficult for himself since he is crushing on Mia Samuels, the girlfriend of the guy, Brad Ralston, who wants to smash his skull in.
If it all sounds hopeless, don't despair. Will has two of the best friends a guy could ask for, Chris and Barley, to help him through it all. Perched in their enviable makeshift treehouse, it's the bond between these three that strengthens the story as it develops.
Janz does an admirable job peeking into the psyche of the American teenager, replete with unrequited love, body issues and bristling attitude. His characters are emotional and realistic. Truthfully, if it all didn't go to Hell, I would have been fine just tagging along with these kids for a couple afternoons, wincing as they have to suffer the aches and pains of growing up. No such luck.
The town is put on edge after a child killer, Carl Padgett, escapes from a local prison and, as if that's not enough, there have been sightings of the flesh crazed, green-eyed creatures stalking the woods that were thought to be only local legends.
Without going into details, imagine being strapped into a gurney and pushed warp speed through a dark forest, bumping and jostling, while a bunch of fucking savages, human and inhuman, are trying to tear your guts out as you pass. This book is ruthless... no one is safe.
The good guys are so connected emotionally that you can't help but scream at the page for them to run or fight back. The antagonists, whether the ignorant local police or the tyrannical teens bent on revenge or the fabled creatures, are so insidious that you want to plunge your hands into the page to stop them dead in their tracks. Or at least give them a good throttling.
Children of the Dark is so intense that I can forgive some of the eye-rolling moments. Occasionally, the kids seem too savvy or sharp when they should be dropping deuces in their Levis. For example, in an epic standoff, Will stops to think, "Had I not been so terrified of them, I would've offered them some popcorn so they could enjoy the show." No, dude, this isn't funny. RUN!
You can't fault Janz for the sometimes overenthusiastic and overdrawn approach to the action. He allows the pace to accelerate at a clip, and even when you may know the outcome of the encounter way ahead of time, you can't help picture him gleefully slamming the words out on the keyboard for the reader's delight. He is doing his best to take you on a thoughtful thrill ride and the result does not disappoint.
Children of the Dark is truly a lightning bolt of a novel. Fast, frightening and very likely to fry your nerves.