I finished the totally stunning “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” late the other night and it’s going to be very difficult not to gush about this fascinating and gripping novel. It was a totally magnificent read and I devoured the 400 pages over two fast-paced evenings. I had intended to save the final hundred for a third night of reading, but I just couldn’t tear myself away from the damned thing as it hurtled towards its heart-breaking conclusion. I had been looking forward to this novel for a while as I was a massive fan of Tremblay’s previous full-length work “A Head Full of Ghosts” which deservedly won the Best Novel award at the Bram Stoker Awards in 2015. Surprisingly “Ghosts” has been slow to receive an official UK release, however, according to the blurb Titan Books will be releasing a paperback in September. So I highly recommend you check that out also, they complement each other brilliantly.
Paul Tremblay is on terrific form here and there can be few better horror writers in the world today. Having said that it’s probably not to all horror fans tastes. There is virtually no violence, no gore and much of the supernatural rumblings are suggestive and it is left to the reader to decide upon a definitive version of events. I love this type of “exquisite emphatic horror” to quote Joe Hill from the cover, it’s suggestive, slow, overpowering and at certain stages the threat of a man standing outside a window is all that is required to give you the shakes. Of course, with the man at the window, is there a supernatural riff or not? Read it to find out as this is the sort of thing which in some ways is left to the imagination of the reader. Other big horror hitters also gush about the book with Nick Cutter, Christopher Golden and one of my favourites Joshua Gaylord all raving about it. It’s the sort of novel I’d push onto my brother and then we’d discuss some of the story threads which were left open.
It’s a completely different read from “A Head Full of Ghosts” but at the heart has the same theme which revolves around family disintegration. The other main similarity is the ambiguity of whether there is anything supernatural going on all. This author is the absolute master of building tension in very normal households; the use of shadows, noises, shapes at windows, bags of clothes that look like body shapes and the clever use of modern technology, phones, apps, etc. Both novels weave these features into their stories expertly. This open-ended style will certainly irritates some, but I’m a huge fan of it.
“Ghosts” is a psychological horror thriller about a family who believe their teenage daughter may be possessed and call in an exorcist. This evolves into a complex family drama which includes a TV documentary in which their family troubles are played out horribly for all to see. “Devil’s Rock” looks at the family in pearl once again, but through the disappearance of a thirteen year old boy, Tommy. Much of the novel it told through the massive impact the disappearance has on his younger sister Kate, his mother Elizabeth and granny Janice. Set in a small town near Boston where nothing bad ever seems to happen, the disappearance of Tommy from one of the big state parks, near a big rock known as “Devil’s Rock” picks up a lot of media attention and social media fans the flames of a supernatural force in the park.
The novel is very cleverly written in the third person, so in each chapter we hear the voices of Kate, Elizabeth, Janice and the detective investigating the case. Tommy’s story, in the period leading up to the disappearance is told in flashback mode, and we spent a lot of time with him and his two best friends Luis and Josh. They’re pretty normal teens who are starting to notice girls, love zombies and are obsessed with Minecraft. Tommy has matured quicker than the other two boys and the author gives a tremendous snapshot of early teen life in small town America as they discover beer and keep secrets from their parents. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the author introduces a pretty clever way of getting right in the head of Tommy through a diary which is an important strand in the plot. The little sister Kate, and all her pre-teen insecurities and angsts, is a fantastic character and she is the one who comes closest to piecing together what happened to Tommy. To say much more about the plot would spoil it, just know there are secrets and the author reveals it all very slowly and by the time you reach the last fifty pages you will not be able to take your eyes from the very painful pages. What really did happen to Tommy? This isn’t in your face horror and there are many unanswered questions, but that’s obviously the style this author is drawn to. However, but the pain of losing a child is more than enough horror for me and the family drama unfolds horribly as the period of disappearance lengthens. Some readers may have preferred the book being written in the first person, however, the third person narrative worked just fine for me. This is very much a slow burner which really got under my skin and it will be equally enjoyed by thriller readers as much as horror fans. It’s hard to know who to compare Paul Tremblay to, as he really does his own thing, possibly Megan Abbott, who also writes thrillers such as “The Fever” which also dip their toes into horror. I’ve always been a fan of authors which who play around with genre conventions and barriers and this novel certainly does that. In fact, few do it better than Tremblay. I really loved “The Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” and recommend it wholeheartedly.