Books of the Dead Press
June, 2013; $12.99 PB, $0.90 Ebook
Reviewed by Josh Black
A group of people are holed up in a remote diner, trying to survive being shot at by a sniper across the street.
That’s essentially the plot of Bracken MacLeod’s debut novel, Mountain Home. Plot is by no means the focus here, though. The scenario frames a painfully honest portrayal of some of the uglier aspects of humanity. The characters are thrust against their will into a highly stressful situation, hidden qualities and truths about them coming to light.
Point of view shifts between characters, giving each one time to develop in their own voice. Each is fleshed out well, with their own hopes and dreams, their hangups and emotional scars. Surprisingly, the sniper herself is perhaps the most sympathetic character. While the people in the restaurant are trapped within the confines of the property, the sniper is increasingly trapped within the confines of her broken mind, haunted by very human demons. Flashbacks to her harrowing war experiences are heartbreaking and give an understandable reason as to why she’s snapped.
The reasons for this or anything else that happens are by no means simplistic or clear-cut. In one scene in particular, several characters argue about which of them is to blame for the sniper’s actions, and none of them are wrong. MacLeod doesn’t deal in absolutes, and pulls no punches regarding inhumanity. Narcissism, bigotry and ignorance figure prominently throughout the novel, leading to tragic ends. It essentially becomes a study in people’s capacity to give and take physical and psychological abuse, and how quickly and drastically these things can change us. A sorrowful tone underlies the novel, at some points leaning toward being unbearably bleak. This is lightened not by humor, but by occasional scenes when humanity shines through the selfish but instinctive will to survive at all costs.
There is some extreme physical violence here, but it’s never gratuitous or exploitative. It tends to come in short bursts, and serves as a catalyst in releasing the repressed hostility of the people directly or indirectly affected by it.
Make no mistake, Mountain Home is a great thriller. It’s tightly constructed, tense and very well-written. There’s also a lot more going on under the hood than you might expect. MacLeod’s voice is clear, confident, and insightful, at no time betraying the fact that this is a debut novel. It’s one that all thriller fans should take note of, and comes with a strong recommendation.