"We are Always Watching" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Sinister Grin Press
Written by Hunter Shea
2017, 252 pages, Fiction
Released on March 1st, 2017
Hunter Shea is well known for writing about monsters and cryptids of all shapes and sizes, and is a definite go to author if you’re looking for a solid, entertaining creature feature. But that isn’t where he cut his authorial teeth, nor even where he developed into a capable veteran wordsmith. No, to find that stuff you must transport yourself back to January of 2012 and earlier, when he was producing traditional style supernatural horror for the Samhain Horror imprint—may it rest in peace. And since then, he’s learned and grown a lot, diversifying his output and significantly increasing the quality of it along the way. And that’s not meant to imply that he wasn’t a good writer in the first place, merely that he’s done what all good writers do and gotten better along the way. Now he seemingly returns to his old stomping grounds with his latest outing, We are Always Watching.
Keep the word “seemingly” in your mind as you delve into this newest entry from Hunter Shea. His direction and destination often seem obvious and predictable right at the start, but they don’t ever end up where you expect them to. And We are Always Watching is no exception. It starts out innocuous enough, and has very much a traditional ghost story vibe going as we’re introduced to West Ridley and his parents who, down on their luck, are moving into his alcoholic, cranky grandfather’s house, a ramshackle old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by overgrown crops with a broken-down barn that has collapsed in on itself. But things quickly go sideways, bouncing the reader in multiple directions along the way and causing them to completely lose sight of where they thought you were going in this story.
By now, we’ve all read a ton of coming-of-age horror novels, and there’s a certain expectation that comes along with those stories. And while this is such a tale, it, like all things Shea, takes the protagonist on a wild ride in completely unusual directions, causing him to come of age in the most horrific of fashions imaginable and, in a lot of ways, it will leave you shaking your head in wonder at the madness you just read. It’s a work that rests heavily on the people within, and that’s a good thing, because the actors in this thing are as solid and sturdy as stone, so well developed and believable that there could be no better foundation for the rest of the tale to stand on. West has been built in flawless, Technicolor detail, and that’s important because without the reader’s deep investment in him, there are aspects of the story that may not have worked out so well, the pacing in particular. It’s a super slow burn of a story that might have fallen short of its mark were it not for the fact that we spend a great deal of the long buildup getting to know the young Mr. Ridley, one of the most lovable and openly straightforward characters you could ask for in a book like this. Your desire to know more about him will likely make you fail to notice the pace of the buildup until after you’ve regained your breath from the insane stomach-punch of a finale.
Which brings us to another area where Hunter Shea always shines. He nails act three every single time, delivering some of the most exciting, exhilarating, in-your-face action and unapologetic violence to be found in contemporary genre fiction. His raw, cut-to-the-bone style and a commitment to sheer pandemonium make for a wild ride that leaves his reader breathless and longing for more and, between that and the masterful treatment with regards to West’s evolution as a character, make the story ultimately satisfying, entertaining, and memorable. As mentioned earlier, Shea made his bones with traditional horror fiction, and those older works are more than worthy of a read, but if you’re looking for a solid horror read and perfect entry point to his work, you couldn’t choose a better place than We Are Always Watching.