"Topsiders" Book Review
Written by Scott Tyson
2013, 182 pages, Fiction
Released on December 3rd, 2013
When Topsiders kicks off, teenage brothers Mathew and Guy both have a crush on Claire, whose parents are good friends with their parents. The families are spending some time together during a holiday, but instead of focusing on having fun, the adults are planning something they're trying to keep from the youngsters. The grown ups leave the kids alone, hop on a boat, and enter an abandoned house by the edge of the river. Unfortunately, their adventure quickly turns into the most dangerous situation they've ever been in. When the parents fail to return home, the three youngsters decided to go looking for them, and that might just be the last bad decision they make.
This is Tyson's debut novel, but nothing about it seems amateur. The author takes his time setting the pieces of the puzzle in place and allowing the reader to become familiar with each character. While they're not all likeable and the cracks in Mat and Guy's parents' marriage soon become evident, more than enough rapport is built so that when the violence, mayhem, and death come, there are some emotions involved. Also, for a first novel, this has superb dialogue and Tyson demonstrates a knack for both great spatial descriptions and gore.
Strangely enough, the beauty of Topsiders is that it's horrible in many ways. For starters, the narrative is infused with an almost palpable teenage aura that will make most readers nostalgic for that part of their lives, but then all that innocence is shattered. Also, the story transitions from what feels like a creepy adventure where some kids go find their parents inside a spooky house to a visceral, bloody story where ugly underground creatures savagely rape, mutilate, and kill humans while said humans run around in a dark cave like trapped rats.
Despite all the things Tyson gets right, his decision to eschew a positive finale is what truly places Topsiders in must-read territory for horror fans, especially those with a taste for brutality. Instead of a teary ending full of hugs or a heroic last minute rescue, everything that can go wrong goes wrong, and then things get uglier. There's no way to explain the last third of the book in a way that won't give away too much, so I'll just say that, once underground, the line between human and monster starts fading away and the ending packs more than one surprise.
Too many authors suffer from what I call Final Girl Syndrome, a condition that forces them to infuse every narrative with sufficient hope, or at least a survivor that beats all odds, in order to leave the reader with a good taste in his or her mouth. Scott Tyson's Topsiders is not like that. It is an entertaining bloodfest full of tension, fear, and violent behavior of more than one type. It's also a great start to Tyson's career that places him on the radar and will surely have many readers asking for more. Topsiders delivers a gradual descent, both metaphorical and literal, that obliterates any sense of optimism, and that makes it a great novel.