Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by John Everson
Published by Leisure Books
Religious cults, blood, murder, and rape. Individually, they all hold a particular place of terror in the hearts of most horror fans. Put them all together, and you get The 13th, the new novel by John Everson. What comes through is a good premise, but with a thin plot and anemic characters, with quite a bit of the exciting action that made Everson’s previous titles, Covenant and Sacrifice, such interesting reads.
The storyline of the novel is straightforward. An old lodge that 20 years ago was used as a place where a cult could summon their dark demon lord is purchased by a doctor for use as a mental hospital for disturbed pregnant women. At the same time a young man has returned with dreams of making the Olympics with his bicycle, and a rookie cop has settled into town. Of course, any horror fan worth his blood-spatter knows damned well that there’s something twisted going on at the newly christened hospital, and it’s only a matter of time before Everson lets the readers know what it is. Blood sacrifices, baby murder, orgies, and general gross mayhem ensue.
What Everson does right, he does very well. His descriptions of every blood and sweat stained moment are really cringe-inducing, while at the same time fascinating. His descriptions of how the young women (see above) are kidnapped are disturbing to the point of the reader feeling dirty for having read them. His action sequences are top-notch, as is his descriptive prowess.
But where the novel falls down comes from two main deficiencies: plot and characterization. Plot-wise, it’s pretty evident what’s going to happen from the get-go. No real surprises and definitely no “holy shit” moments. It’s obvious from the first paragraph where everyone is going to end up and what they’re going to be doing when they get there. Character-wise, the first half of the book is excellent. However, after that, the characters become a mass of glib comments at inappropriate times. There are a few genuine moments of “huh?” throughout the last part of the book, which give the ending a rushed, half-conceived feeling. It also degenerates into a collection of stock clichés that seem out of place, particularly coming from Everson.
On the whole, The 13th isn’t a bad read. It’s just not great. There are quite a few good moments in it that can keep the reader engaged, but his previous novels seem to have found their voices easier than this one. With any luck Everson will find his groove with his next book.
3 out of 5
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