Written by Jonathan Maberry
Published by Pinnacle Books
Trilogies are a staple of storytelling. Instead of putting the whole story together into one massive volume that could not possibly fit on any shelf, complex stories with wide arcs are split into more manageable sections. The beginning is, most often, the book that hooks the reader and makes them crave more. The third book is usually the hammer blow on the story, dashing or confirming the hopes of the audiences and putting the hero through one last wringer before the end of the last page, adding to his or her journey of pain and self growth. Then there’s that other book…The “middle” book. The Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy. Important to the plot it may be, and full of useful points that the audience is certain will come back and haunt in the next section. Still, the whole purpose of the second book in a trilogy is to tease the reader into buying that third book, it seems. More often than not, the middle book is full of development and exposition that the story could not do without, but is difficult to slog through anyway. What Jonathan Maberry began in Ghost Road Blues continues in Dead Man’s Song and is a pleasant departure from many middle books as this one remains interesting throughout.
First, reading this book before reading its predecessor is a mistake, as the reader needs that first novel to get to know not only the main players in the story, but also the town and the history that makes it novel-worthy. Of course, those who need a refresher about the first book need only click here to read the review. For those who’d rather not click, here’s the basic outline of the first book. The Pennsylvania town of Pine Deep has a dubious past involving murder and mayhem, culminating in the death of a blues musician called the “Bone Man.” In the present time, Halloween is the major tourist event of the town, culminating in a massive celebration. In the mist of preparation, former drunk and town policeman Malcolm Crowe is peacefully minding his craft shop, tending the local haunted trail ride, and preparing to pop the big question to his long-time sweetheart, Val Gutherie, when trouble rides into town in the form of notorious gangsters. At the same time, the Bone Man begins appearing again, his presence spurred on by an old evil that has resurfaced. In Dead Man’s Song, the story picks up only hours after the last one ended, with Crowe and Valerie in the hospital after a vicious beating by the notorious Karl Ruger. Ruger, believed dead at the end of the last book, returns with some supernatural influence that shows that no one who grew up in the town was not touched by the evil and strange events that happened so many years ago.
What sets this book apart from other second-in-the-trilogy books is Maberry’s attention to characters, and not just those to which he’s already introduced the readers. Think of any other middle book and most new characters are secondary, background at best. Not so in this installment. Two of Maberry’s characters, the abused fourteen-year-old Mike Sweeny and the town religious zealot Tow-Truck Eddie, are brought to life in fascinating detail, proving that they have quite a bit more to do with this story than the author is letting on right away. In the case of Sweeny, his development into a man, and the plans the evil entity known as Griswold has for him, make him the sort of character that readers care about and want to follow. Tow-Truck Eddie, on the other hand, is the type that readers love to read because horror fans always enjoy a trip into madness, and Eddie gives readers a guided tour.
What began as a classic ghost story evolves in Dead Man’s Song into something more of a classic monster tale. With the Halloween season fast approaching the town and festivals closing in, the appearance of mutilated bodies sets everyone in a panic. The mayor appears to be losing his mind, the former town drunk is now a member of the police force, and people, in general, are acting quite crazy. Then there’s the whole matter of corpses disappearing from the morgue and reports of supposedly dead gangsters shambling around through the woods as though they came from a Romero film.
While Maberry shows his impressive skills at developing character and setting, there are a few things that may cause readers to balk. Without giving anything away, some readers might find Maberry’s explanation of what’s going on to be a little trite. Still, it is a horror novel, and for those who enjoyed Ghost Road Blues this sequel is enough to interest readers until the third and final installment. Bringing all the plots together, as well as managing his large cast of characters, will be a difficult task, but one Maberry seems up to.
Ignore the curse of the “second book” of the trilogy. Dead Man’s Song keeps the reader rapt and moves quickly, leaving the audience hungry for the final chapter in the saga.
4 1/2 out of 5
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