Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Michael Laimo
Published by Leisure Books
One thing that can be said about family; we’ve got no choice who ours is made up of, and ultimately it’s what makes us who we are. Whether that’s good or bad I guess depends on your upbringing, but for 18-year-old Johnny Petrie, he’s pretty much screwed no matter what he does.
When we meet young Johnny, he’s a repressed youth wasting his days away in Manhattan, unable to go out and do anything that normal 18-year-olds would consider fun thanks to his religious zealot of a mother. When a letter arrives at his front door one day telling him the he is the sole heir to a fortune estimated at about $2 million, he thinks he’s finally found a way out. How wrong he is…
For you see Johnny’s real name is Bryan Conroy, the last surviving son of Benjamin Conroy, a former small-town preacher from Maine who one day lost his last few remaining marbles and murdered his entire family, save for baby Bryan. Bryan was given to family and raised far away from his Maine roots, only learning the truth about his true identity when he hit the legal age of 18. His real pop’s killing spree was not your typical over-stressed shotgun massacre, oh no; Benjamin believed that he and his entire family would be given the gift of eternal life thanks to their worship of the god Osiris, whom is believed by some to be the reason Jesus Christ was able to come back from the dead after the third day. Whether or not that is the case is never actually brought into question; Benjamin believed it and that belief was enough to make him nearly destroy his entire bloodline.
Author Michael Liamo is a bit of rising star; his last Leisure release, The Demonologist, is being developed for the big screen and more of his novels are being looked at for possible film projects, so there was a lot riding on Dead Souls when it hit shelves earlier this month. I enjoyed The Demonologist quite a bit when I first read it (review is here) so I was hoping Laimo could keep it up and deliver on something even cooler. Boy, did he ever.
The timeline of the book shifts between the year 2005, with Johnny on his way to collect his fortune in Maine and the horrible events that befall him before he can even leave New York, and the year 1984 where we see the events that went down that fateful day when the entire Conroy family met their makers. At first it’s a bit jarring to be thrown back and forth in time, but as the book progresses the flow evens out and it works wonderfully to create a mounting tension throughout. The horror is gruesome and unrelenting in both time frames, which serves to throw you off balance almost from the very start; you really never know what horrific event is going to transpire on the next page, and that really keeps things moving.
But what is horror if you don’t care about those it’s being inflicted upon? In this arena Laimo also does a bang-up job, as both Johnny and Benjamin are fully realized entities whose motivations may be wildly different, but make sense in their given situations. Benjamin is not a good man, though he pretends to be for his family and parishioners, but his ultimate goal is somewhat noble: he just wants his family to be together in the afterworld as they are in this one.
Johnny, on the other hand, is a good kid who just wants to get away from his painfully oppressive home life. Despite the flaws of his adoptive parents, he still loves them both and it breaks his heart to leave, especially on such short notice, but he knows it’s what he has to do. Of course this is offset a bit when he discovers the truth about his heritage and their actual relationship to him, but in the end he’s just a young man who wants to live his own life. No one can fault him for that.
The only real gripe I have is the ending, as is almost always the case with Leisure releases, it seems. Because of their restrictions when it comes to word count, it seems that their books always feature events that are either dragged on for too long to fill the pages or their conclusion is come upon far too quickly. The latter is the case here, and the way in which its wrapped up is a bit ridiculous as well, but hopefully by the time you get to it (readers with a good amount of time should try and polish it off in one sitting for the full effect), you’ll be too caught up to notice.
I hope Laimo can keep it up with this supernaturally tinged horror; he’s definitely got the skills to balance the spiritual realm with the physical to paint a truly horrific tapestry that is both memorable and realistic.
4 out of 5
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