"Kill Creek" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Inkshares
Written by Scott Thomas
2017, 432 pages, Fiction
Released on October 31st, 2017
I've read a lot of stories lately that do an incredible job integrating the setting into the story in such a way as to make it a palpable presence, an antagonizing character if you will. Books like Lee Thomas' seminal works Down on Your Knees and The Dust of Wonderland and Chris Kelso's Unger House Radicals would fall flat were it not for the authors’ masterful ability to manipulate the environment such that it becomes, if not the most important, a crucial element in the storyline. It's a technique that I find endlessly fascinating when handled well, but I also think that it most likely takes no small amount of experience and expertise with the written word to be able to pull it off. So, color me surprised when newcomer Scott Thomas hit the horror scene with his debut novel, Kill Creek, and manages to utilize the trick with exceptional results. But digging further into Thomas' background reveals that he's an experienced screenwriter, having penned multiple scripts for TV movies and series and, as such, is likely a hardcore veteran when it comes to location and mood and the importance it holds for the success of any story, whether it's film or literature.
In Kill Creek, four authors from various subgenres of horror take part in a publicity stunt designed to hopefully help reignite their faltering, in some cases stagnating careers, agreeing to spend the night in the infamous Finch House on Kill Creek. The stay in the house goes off without too much trouble and, barring a few super creepy events and shocking jump scares that could be chalked up to character imagination or trickery perpetrated by the show's producer, it isn't until they're departing the next day that it begins to become obvious that the house is probably far from finished with them. With two main protagonists and a solid supporting cast, it is from the onset a well written, spooky ghost story, but were it to remain that way, nothing to write home about in the realm of fresh and new creations in the horror genre. Fortunately, the tale takes an unexpectedly refreshing turn about halfway through, as the house begins to reach out to them, affecting their lives in terrifying and inexplicable ways and they're forced to return to confront the evil that resides there in an attempt to get their lives back.
The story starts off traditionally enough, seeming like your typical haunted house novel taking ques from legendary works such as Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Richard Matheson's Hell House, but as the tale progresses and the house begins to reach out and severely fuck with the characters, it begins to take on an even darker and more insidious nature, slowly transforming itself into something that feels like the Grindhouse epic from Hell that you didn't know you needed. But trust me when I tell you that if you're a hardcore horror fan, you most certainly have been waiting for this tale. It sets out at a slow burn, taking its time to build and solidify the characters and develop the storyline and also setting the reader up, lulling them into a sense of almost placed enthrallment until suddenly it grabs them by the throat and rips them through the back half of the book at hair-raising velocity, spitting them out with shredded nerves and thrumming heart at the marvelously surprising and satisfying finale.
Now let me tell you, as I indicated briefly at the opening of this review, what really makes this work sing, the thing that pulls all the various threads together and weaves them into a complete, macabre tapestry of nightmare scenarios of nearly Boschian propensity. It's a trick that authors like Lee Thomas and Daniel Braum use extensively in their writing, a particularly masterful ability to intertwine the tale with the setting in such a way as to make it an indispensable player in the unfolding drama of Kill Creek. In author Scott Thomas' adroit hands, the house comes fully to life, becoming not just a setting but a terrifying and torturous antagonist set out with the purpose to murder or drive the other characters mad. And I'm not using the word "character" lightly or facetiously here. Because rather than being merely a place in a story, the Finch House grows into a living breathing entity, intelligent and malevolent in its intent, forcing our main characters, Sam and T.C., to face and come to terms with the skeletons in their own dark closets in order to have any hope of surviving and eventually defeating the nightmares that plague them.
In horror fiction, the terrors are always made stronger when the characters have some sort of connection or historic context that links them to whatever is antagonizing them, and this is almost always the case in ghost stories. In Kill Creek, Thomas employs a brilliant twist on this technique, having the house, seemingly intentionally, build its own relationships with the people, drawing their dark, horrific histories out into the light and using them against them in brutally violent and terrifying ways that may find the readers skin not merely crawling but attempting to tear itself from their very flesh. Where the first half of this story moves at a steady, quiet story building pace, the second half is the antithesis of that, raging along like a bull after Superman's cape, dealing gut-punch after gut-punch in a fever frenzy of unspeakable, relentless terror as he almost gleefully drags his characters straight to hell and leaves them to find their own way out or die trying.
When it comes to the haunted house subgenre of horror, I'm a YUGE fan, and I'm constantly on the lookout, not necessarily just for new voices, but for authors who have found new ways to handle the trope without leaning on cliché. But, with a few notable exceptions, there has been a dearth of quality diversions from the boilerplate that has long been established by authors such as Jackson and Matheson. Like zombie tales, ghosts have been done to death and original premises are a rare breed, as precious as a perfectly cut gemstone and just as hard to come by. Kill Creek is one of those pristine jewels, a refreshing, unique take on the ghost story that will find you hanging on every sentence and clenching your teeth together in anticipation of whatever horror might next emerge from the dark corners of the Finch house and the sinister depths of Scott Thomas' delightful imagination.