Published by W.O.P Press
For those who might be unfamiliar, Stephen Stromp is the author of In the Graveyard Antemortem and Cracking Grace. I have not read either of these other novels, but I will be seeking them out as soon as I can as Where the Cats Will Not Follow was just my kind of weekend reading material.
The plot follows a young man named Ayden who is trying the best he can to just get through life alone (been there myself). He’s having nightmares about little creatures that will remind anyone of Gremlins and in general seems to be about at the end of his rope. Then his childhood friend, Phillip, comes calling. Phillip and Ayden haven’t seen each other for years, but now Phillip comes to his buddy asking him for help finding his missing girlfriend. An intriguing start to a story, I must say.
The book then kicks it all into a much darker storyline as Phillip straight up drugs and kidnaps his childhood chum and forces him to help him find the missing woman. Why would he do this? What the hell is so special about Ayden (and his dreams) that would make him the prime candidate for solving a missing person’s case and/or getting kidnapped? The novel then begins to play out in a series of flashbacks to the two men’s childhood and the events leading all the way up to modern day and the kidnapping.
The two boys spent most of their childhood as part of a trinity of buddies, with the missing link being Ayden’s older brother Everett. Throughout these flashbacks, the novel begins asking even more questions – that, thank God, all have answers by the time the last page is read – such as, “Where is Everett now?” and “Was this Everett fellow their fearless leader, or their ultimate villain?” Combined with the questions presented above, these new mysteries are just a few of the intriguing conundrums the novel presents in its first quarter. From there we are thrown into a tale of monsters in the cornfield, seductive tree women, and a murder most foul. Trust me, it’s darker than you’d expect.
What I enjoyed most about this book was Stromp’s ability to craft a collection of what must have been the standout plotlines and moments from his favorite movies growing up, put them in a Stephen King-meets-Steven Spielberg pot, and stitch them together like some kind of teenage Frankenstein. I watched those same Amblin movies as a kid so seeing them play out in a mish-mash of horror mixed with the innocent magic of childhood delighted me page after page.
No, this isn’t like Ready Player One or Netlfix’s Stranger Things. This book is not a pure nostalgia ride that keeps poking you in the ribs and saying, “You ‘member Gremlins, right?” or “You ‘member Stand By Me, huh?” No, Stromp is not interested in presenting you with an endless stream of Member Berries. Instead, he delivers thrilling new situations and all-new monsters from the shadows. This is an utterly original work that’s just told through the lens of an author that knows where his 80’s inspirations come from.
On the dull side of the blade, the novel did go a bit more into the fantasy realm than I expected. But even that was all good considering the book loves to play games with the reader’s mind. Are the events we’re reading really as out there as finding a spaceship made of old tractor parts in the middle of a cornfield, or is it all just in the main character’s head? Does Ayden actually possess the ability to dream the future, or is his older brother Everett just a master of manipulation? The book constantly makes arguments for both sides, and deciding for yourself what’s really going down is one of the book’s great joys.
Also, I know this is a horror movie website and most of us are all adults here, but all the same I feel the need to point out that the novel is also a bit more grown-up than I first thought it was going to be. The plot is charming, if not a bit dark, and mostly one you would find in any 80’s kid’s movie, but the constant usage of “fuck”, sexual scenes, and a dark side that treads full-blown real horror make the book one that, if it were submitted to the MPAA, would surely grasp an R-rating within its razor-sharp teeth. Obviously, that is not a bad thing. Just felt the need to point it out so you don’t buy this for your nephew unaware of the extent of the horror within.
Overall, Stephen Stromp’s Where the Cats Will Not Follow is like a mixture of Super Dark Times and Joe Dante’s Gremlins. Hell, you could also say it’s like Stand by Me meets Explorers (remember that one?). But in the end, the new novel is quite simply a classic coming-of-age tale told in a place where there be monsters.
Where the Cats Will Not Follow is now available on Amazon as of Tuesday, May 1st, and you can pick up a copy for yourself or a loved one right HERE.
Where The Cats Will Not Follow plays out like a mixture of Super Dark Times and a classic Amblin creature feature. It’s darker than you might initially assume, but still preserves the magic of childhood within all the horror. A perfect weekend read.