Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Sarah Pinborough
Published by Leisure Books
It doesn’t seem like it’s been very long since Sarah’s debut novel, The Hidden won me over pretty much right away (read my review of it here), so imagine my surprise when one of Leisure’s releases this month was her follow-up, The Reckoning. Two books in less than a year? Is she a machine?
If she is, she’s a damn fine-tuned one because while plot wise not as original as The Hidden, The Reckoning moves along with the same quick pace, keeps the same definition to it’s characters, and manages to twist a popular horror convention in a unique way, which is always something I can get behind.
Rob Black came from his humble roots in the small town of Streatford, outside of London, England, and became one of the most successful authors in the UK. Constantly seen with a new model on his arm and ingesting enough to drugs to make rock stars proud, he wakes up one morning and realizes he’s got to get out before he burns out. After an ominous dream about events from his childhood, he decides to return to his hometown for some peace and quiet.
As the story progresses, you may begin to wonder if perhaps it wasn’t exactly his choice to head back to his childhood home, as it becomes clear something actually drew him there. Shortly before his arrival a horrible attack occurs to a girl in Syracousse, an abandoned home on the outskirts of Streatford that most residents forgot even existed before the girl was raped and mutilated within it’s walls. Coincidentally, Syracousse was the setting for the aforementioned events from Rob’s childhood that drew him back there in the first place. As the story unfolds we learn more and more about just what happened to Rob and his friends Jason, Carrie-Anne, and Gina (who lived in Syracousse) over the course of one very fateful summer during their young teen years.
While Pinborough reveals the truth behind the character’s secrets, secrets they’ve never shared with anyone but themselves because they’re things that would make most people see them as insane, events continue to unfold in the present day that leads everyone involved closer to the truth of that summer. When Gina appears out of nowhere things start coming to a head, both in the present day and in the recounting of the past. These people grew up believing the reason so many bad things happened to them that summer was due to Gina and some sort of power she possessed but they’ll learn, some sooner and more painfully than others, that the truth is much darker.
One thing that really struck me about the style of The Reckoning was how similar it was to some of King’s early works. Back at home in England Pinborough is a teacher, which goes a long way in explaining why she’s able to tap into the mentality of teenagers. The actions of the group when they’re young is realistic and believable, the communication amongst each other doesn’t come across as an adult trying to write about kids; it feels real. King was an expert at this back in his early books, juxtaposing his character’s actions while young with their situation in the present day, and Pinborough shows the same level of skill on only her second novel.
The only real complaints I have revolve around the book’s finale, which takes place in the house as it all of a sudden decides to kill everyone within it’s walls save for the one it really wanted, as it reminded me too much of the kind of tacked-on endings you see in far too many horror movies and books these days. In fact, to be honest, it reminded me of the kind of ending King would seemingly pull out of the air just to finish up the story, which earned him quite a reputation. The good news about the end is very few characters actually make it out alive, so Sarah’s keeping with the downbeat, “things don’t always work out for the best” kind of ending she had in The Hidden.
There’s also the budding romance between Rob and one of the residents of Streatford (a single mother who just wants to be done with men and take care of her daughter) that bothered me. The two immediately form a bond despite the fact that Rob’s come from meaningless fling after meaningless fling, and that she’s really in no place to get involved with someone like that. I guess you can’t really choose who you fall for, but at times their relationship just felt like a plot point that was thrown in to make already sympathetic characters even more so.
Minor issues aside, The Reckoning is still a great story complete with solid characters and an interesting premise that will keep you wondering just what the hell is going on for a good portion of the book’s length. In a good way. By the time it all comes together you’re so wrapped up in it that you’re only choice is to see it through to it’s conclusion. Pinborough rarely takes the easy way out (the poisoning of one characters’ family is especially heart and stomach wrenching) and she knows her horror inside and out. Recommended!
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