Monday, March 16, 2009
You'll read it in a day--but it'll keep you up all night
by Jack Kilborn
It may be the worst-kept secret in publishing that Jack Kilborn is the pseudonym of novelist J.A. Konrath. Fans of Konrath's Jack Daniel's serial killer novels know that he's not afraid to depict graphic violence. That knowledge is not going to prepare you for what you'll face in Afraid.
The plot is high concept, and simple enough to summarize in just a few sentences. Every major government, including our own, is experimenting in "Red-ops." Why turn soldiers into killers, when it's so much easier to turn killers into soldiers? And if you can use cutting-edge technology to enhance them, so much the better. One such Red-ops team of psycho killers accidentally crash lands in bucolic Safe Haven, Wisconsin. It's a terrible, terrible mistake, as the team launches into what they've been trained to do--kill and maim in the most terrifying (and may I add disgusting) way imaginable. Only the elderly town sheriff has begun to suspect that it may not be a mistake after all...
And it was that last bit, in the book's description, that got me. Not a mistake? What do they want? I was hooked. I mean HOOKED. I had important work to do, but once I had started it, I could not stop reading this book until I finished it. I read it in less than a day. The pacing of the novel was relentless, as was the subject matter. I had been told that this was a gory novel. In no way does that prepare you for the level of sickness you will encounter in this novel. I can not emphasize enough that Afraid is not for the faint of heart. If it were a film, I wouldn't have made it through the first five minutes. (Let's all hope they never make a movie.) Kilborn's creative, I'll give him that. I don't even know how a healthy mind goes to the places his went.
Ultimately, I give the novel four stars. When all was said and done, I was mildly disappointed in what all the furor was about. Was it enough to justify the events of the novel? And I wasn't sure, but I might have found a small plot hole. Mostly, I just can't give five stars to anything this revolting. On the plus side, there was actually some pretty fantastic storytelling. I'm a total sucker for characters like Stubin and Mathison. In addition to unremitting suspense, Kilborn threw in enough twists, reversals, and out-and-out surprises to keep me constantly on my toes. As much as I'd like to deny it, Afraid was damn entertaining.
If I sound conflicted, it's because I am. I'd like myself better if I liked this book less. This is sick, sick, sick stuff y'all. I'm going to recommend it to my mom--she loves psycho killers! Will I read Kilborn's next one? You betcha.