I lost my way in the middle, so I was relieved to find I was meant to have done so.
There are only three main characters, Brennan, Thomas and Joan. The fourth character, the Old Man, never really distils until the end. McSwain deliberately fogs the mind of the reader as much as those of the two characters we are meant to have some empathy towards. So don’t feel the need to backup in the middle looking for a missed direction; just enjoy the easy dialogue as it skips you effortlessly through the detached heads to its all revealing and exciting conclusion.
McSwain writes in a way that I found compulsive, as though a word drug was administered in the opening chapter. I was addicted after a few pages, found myself effortlessly zooming through the middle, to then be left fighting and kicking as hard as Thomas to get over this strong compulsion before the close.
Like all good ghost/ghoul horrors, I really, really hope that the all the spooky manipulations of our souls are impossible. McSwain is kind enough to not be over-repetitive, over-gratuitous, by leaving the detail of many repeat performances to our imaginations. That is a technique that many lesser writers should consider emulating. Indeed, McSwain grants us enough signposts to humour to allow the squeamish, me, to divert the words through a pool of more humorous interpretation.
The most rounded character, and only half-normal one, is Joan. She is so tricked and deceived by the interests of others that I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if she had just walked off chapter and never come back. Luckily, she didn’t, staying to provide a string of sanity for the reader to hold onto.
In his afterwords, McSwain talks about many influences, most of which I can’t really vouch for, but yes Stephen King is certainly there. Mostly though, I think the credit for this story truly goes to the author’s own unique mix of horror elements. I am not well read in close genres, but truly believe the plot emerged from the author’s own grey matter and not from the thoughts gathered from the thousands of heads rolling around on the blood-stained floors of previous writers.
I really am not a horror fan, but as I say the drug got to me and opened up the macabre fears I usually prefer to keep locked away. The whirlwind of thoughts at the end was worth the increased blood pressure during the journey.
Was the book plot perfect? I can’t say for sure. Was there an occasional bit of sloppy grammar, some poor continuity between sentences, and once or twice a distracting sprinkling of typos? Certainly. I assume that many of these will be edited out in future editions. Was the book entertaining? In bucketfuls, of both blood and macabre humour!