Poor Jeffrey by Paul Flewitt is at its heart a story about small town America, and four teenage friends who are struck by tragedy, against the backdrop of a serial killer spree.
I enjoyed some aspects of this book a lot. The initial descriptive passages of Jeffrey were very well done, and a clear and effective character sketch was drawn. The prose style clearly holds a major debt to Clive Barker, but there are far worse influences to have. Similarly, the initial reactions of the friends to Jeffrey’s death (spoilers, I guess, but that’s in the blurb, so whatever) is sweetly observed. The initial introduction of the killer and his method was utterly chilling and stomach churning, and I also really enjoyed the magical ritual that took place in the early part of the book - again, it clearly owes a debt to Barker in execution, but it’s none the worse for that. And I felt the initial portraits of the other players in the town, especially Jeffrey’s parents, were skillfully done.
I did however run into a number of issues in the second third of the novel which undermined my enjoyment somewhat. The first was a creeping repetition in some of the chapters - in many chapters, we visited with each of the point of view characters, and in some cases they simply repeated what the previous character had thought without really moving the narrative forward. Similarly, there’s a pacing issue towards the end of the second act, where time passes without any significant events occurring beyond the appearance of FBI investigators. And again, events start to duplicate, including a priest visiting a house with near identical events and conversations taking place. It’s a very strange ‘treading water’ effect in terms of the narrative, and undermined the early pacing to a degree. Also, there were potentially dramatically interesting things that could have been explored in this section - one of the characters getting more immersed in black magic, the killer continuing to operate in the town - that were effectively glossed over, and referred to only in narrative passing rather than presented on the page.
The climax itself built pretty well, with the various elements converging geographically in a plausible way, and I wasn’t sure exactly how events were going to play out, which was enjoyable. The resolution was emotionally satisfying, though again, underdeveloped in terms of some of the elements, for me.
I have to say that it felt to me like the first third of the novel was more polished that than final two thirds, and in my judgement many of the issues with content repetition and pacing should have been picked up on by a competent editor. In that sense, it feels more like reading an early draft than a polished novel. As such, whilst there is a lot of competent writing here, with occasional flashes of genuine inspiration, it’s very tough for me to recommend the overall experience, except perhaps to the curious.
The last thing I’d ever want to do is put somebody off writing, however, and while I felt there were significant flaws with ‘Poor Jeffrey’, I do feel fairly confident that with more attention to pacing and plotting, and some solid editing, Mr. Flewitt is capable of producing a good horror novel, because there are some lovely moments of writing here, especially in the first third. While for my money ‘Poor Jeffrey’ is an interesting failure, I’d be happy to read more from this author (including an improved version of this book, potentially).