by J. Gabriel Gates
Caleb is celebrating his graduation from high school with his family and his best friend Bean when he discovers a letter hidden amongst his pile of graduation cards. Curious, Caleb opens the letter to discover that a childhood friend he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years, Christine, has written him, and he is compelled to travel to Florida, where his father lives, to find her. After arriving in Florida, he realizes that it isn’t just Christine who has gone missing. And as a result, he and Bean begin an investigation into a truth that may prevent both of their graduation dreams from coming true. Gates has crafted a thriller that might best be described as The Grudge meets The Walking Dead. There are plenty of creepy creatures (and people too) who go bump in the night in this tale, and the description of Florida, with its dank swampy areas, stifling heat, and thick, earthy smells add to the dark tone of the story. The tension builds consistently throughout the novel, moving quickly between Ron (a man searching for his daughter), Margie (a waitress from a local diner), and Caleb (a.k.a. “Billy”). Interestingly, the minor characters Ron and Margie actually seem at times to be better developed than the protagonist; and, the same goes for Caleb’s friend Christine. Yet this unbalanced characterization doesn’t function as a drawback, instead, it keeps the reader invested in the outcome. While the climax of the story is rewarding, the last chapter seems to have been tacked on as an afterthought. One traumatized victim, Keisha, seems to use ridiculously simple dialogue to describe her distress, “this is freaking me out,” and the last line of the novel is an unnecessary cliché. Let’s hope the neatly wrapped ending isn’t someone’s idea of an opening for a sequel, because this thriller can stand on its own.