Grand Central Publishing
Paperback, 384 pages, $6.99
Review by Sheila Merritt
Jack Kilborn’s novel Afraid is based on a perverse logic: If one sadistic psychopath is scary, then certainly a team of demented serial killers will prove even scarier. This is sort of the mentality that allows the supersizing of a hamburger, but here it’s more like gorging on gore. It would be easy and even entertaining to imagine the sales pitch for the idea: “More Mayhem! More Murder! More Malice, More Mutilations!” The pathetic lone psycho has nothing to offer by contrast. There also have to be, in consequence, torture sequences that are multiplied and magnified; it’s simply a matter of numbers and things lining up. Detailed descriptions of dismemberment, pyromaniac sadism, consumption of human flesh, urination from fear, and the sounds and smells that accompany such activities, abound. Combine these elements with yet another plot rehash of a government experiment gone rogue, and that pretty much summarizes the novel.
There’s the usual cast of characters combating the onslaught of these maniacal human monsters: The spunky single mom with the absolutely great kid, the kid’s faithful and resourceful dog, the fireman who finds his life’s real meaning through the crisis, the policeman who is getting old but still has true grit (Clint Eastwood, anyone?). Most of these good guys get maimed and psychologically beaten down by the events that destroy most of their small, sequestered Wisconsin town. Pluckiness and perseverance, however, are stubborn qualities. So, in spite of escapes that would make Houdini feel inferior, these individuals (and some other townspeople and one mentally enhanced laboratory monkey), bravely face their adversaries.
Behind all the brawn of the villains, of course, is a brain. Once again, scientists take a moral hit in horror fiction; it’s the sons of Dr. Frankenstein syndrome. These days, more often than not, the scientists link up with the government to create chaos. The two sides have their in-fighting in most novels, and that grand tradition continues in Afraid.
To call Jack Kilborn’s novel derivative, is kind. Yes, the author keeps the predictable action moving well and the characters have all the necessary quirks, foibles, and weaknesses to make them more than two-dimensional. The problem is this is horror “du jour;” it’s written from the template of the moment. Only the body count, the number of madmen, and sadly, the monkey distinguish this book in any way.