The Summer I Died
Ryan C. Thomas
Coscom Entertainment (2nd edition)
Review by Nickolas Cook
Back when I first reviewed Ryan Thomas’ The Summer I Died, there was an extreme sub-genre, known by enthusiasts as ‘backwoods’ horror, which is an offshoot of the same sub-genre in film: movies like Deliverance, Straw Dogs, Wrong Turn, and the ultimate in backwoods terror, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In the horror literature world it comprised of some pretty gruesome titles by the likes of Joe Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Ed Lee, Richard Laymon and Weston Oches. Now it’s a thriving sub-genre, with more movies and more books than I can name here available. So what better time for Coscom Entertainment to release this new, cleaned up edition of Thomas’ debut work?
The Summer I Died is an unrelenting read.
And, unfortunately, quite plausible.
Author Ryan C. Thomas tells the story of Roger and his childhood friend, Tooth, and what happens to them in the backwoods of a small New Hampshire town, when they run across a dilapidated cabin and find it’s the terror dome of a sadistic (and very imaginative) killer.
But the author doesn’t throw the reader into the horror before some careful consideration for his main characters. Thomas takes the time to paint a pair of likable guys, and give them a sense of humor and life before tossing them to the lions. Roger, the industrious one, and Tooth, the slacker of the duo, are young men that anyone might recognize as the guys next door, unhappy with life in a small town, but hopeful for a change. And that’s what makes this novel so damned hard to get through without feeling sick and dirty. Thomas holds nothing back; he describes all the gore, all the pain, and all of the terror blow-by-blow.
The Summer I Died is written in first person, so there should have been no suspense about Roger’s survival of the ordeal. But several times I had to remind myself that he lives through it, or else no one would be telling the story, right? It’s been a long time since I had to do that for a first person narrative. That’s the power of good descriptive writing, and building a dense atmosphere of palpable horror for the reader.
The obvious caveat is that this style of writing may not be for everyone. Some may see The Summer I Died as violence for violence’s sake, a literary equivalent to a Friday the 13th film.
But what makes it work so well is the characters’ sense of humanity. Even at his worst, the killer, named Skinnyman in Roger’s narrative memory, gains our sympathy even as he utterly devastates the human body, and does such outrageous things to a woman’s severed head that I can’t even bring myself to print it here. His methods are extreme…maybe too extreme for some readers, so be warned now. Even the dog, Butch, has a sense of humanity, and becomes like another character for the story.
In this second edition, the rough first few pages have been smoothed out for a better pace and phrasing. The flashbacks don’t feel quite as intrusive as in the 1st edition. The spotty dialogue that peppered the original print has also been cleaned up a bit and moves more seamlessly through the narrative.
Since his debut release, Thomas has been busy editing a fantastically original anthology for Permuted Press, called Monstrous and doing what writers do best: write what he knows and feels, and just plain making it better with every new sitting.
And what I said before, still stands true with this 2nd edition of The Summer I Died: He still has a good grasp of theme and characterization; his dialogues scintillate off the page. And I still charge that Thomas may very well be the next big name in extreme horror. For those fans of extreme horror, and ‘backwoods’ horror, or both, I recommend The Summer I Died, 2nd edition from Coscom Entertainment.