They Hunger (Book)

Dread Central Book Review They Hunger
Written by Scott Nicholson

Published by Pinnacle Books, 2007

383 pages

Vampires have, for a long while now, been the sort of horror villain that’s been diluted to the point of just not being scary. Tragic characters with brooding angst and Euro-trash accents have flooded the genre, making way for vampires to be loved, desired, and pitied, robbing them of their biggest claim to fame: They drink the blood of the living and are, themselves, undead. Horror fans now have a reason to rejoice as horror scribe Scott Nicholson presents his latest novel of terror, They Hunger.

Described by some as “Deliverance meets Dracula,” the book begins with a religious zealot named Ace who is on the run from the FBI after bombing several abortion clinics. Now hiding in the Unegama Wilderness region of the Appalachian Mountains and towing along his submissive girlfriend, he plays a dangerous game of hide and seek from two FBI agents. At the same time a promotional trip for a company that makes extreme outdoor sports equipment is headed down the river for what they hope will be the greatest adventure and advertising campaign in the company’s history. Eventually the killer and the rafters meet, and chaos ensues.

Oh yeah … And there are vampires. Big, nasty vampires.

Nicholson’s writing strengths are evident in this book. He has a knack for not only creating tense situations but also giving the landscape the life it deserves. His attention to the environment gives the reader the ability to picture the whitewater and jagged cliffs clearly, as if from a photograph. Similarly, his ability to build characters is admirable, even if the majority of them are, in some way or another, flawed to say the least. Apart from the “‘bamma bomber,” there’s his clingy and dependent girlfriend. In addition, the leader of the marketing expedition is a guilt and self-doubt addled recluse, followed by a ball-busting photographer, an arrogant scumbag who’s in it for the money, a drug addicted Native American, and a few other characters with enough collective quirks and neuroses to fill a psychologist’s notebook.

Of course, the real treats are the vampires. There are no Armani suits, no capes, no accents, and absolutely no angst to these blood-sucking creatures. They are monsters, plain and simple, and live up to their legacy. With their leathery skin and milky eyes, these creatures resemble demons from hell more than an emo band. Plus, they kill. They don’t “embrace,” give anyone the “dark gift,” or “sire” anyone. They attack like birds of prey, swooping in out of the clouds and ripping straight for the vital soft bits. And, in keeping with tradition, those bitten and drained by them turn but hold very little resemblance to their former selves.

While well written, taut, and engaging, this book is not without a few problems. First, it takes a significant amount of time before the readers get to see or even get a hint of the vampires. In fact, through most of the book they are treated as more of a mind-numbingly frightening aside than as a major plot point. Also, the development of where they came from is only briefly mentioned. Another minor flaw is that while richly developed, most of the characters have little, if any, redeeming qualities, making it hard for the reader to root for them. In actuality, that last point may be a good thing because when Nicholson has them torn apart by bloodthirsty monsters, the reader will feel quite a sense of satisfaction.

Minor issues aside, this book stands alongside Nicholson’s other works as a testament to his ability to write a tight story with enough punch to lay out a heavyweight. The last hundred pages will be impossible for readers to put down. Moreover, this book is a welcome respite from all the other versions of vampires in that these are brutal, bloodthirsty, and above all, scary. He puts vampires back where they should be: on the “monster” list.

4 out of 5

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