At first, I wasn’t entirely sold; While humorous, snappy horror is totally fine, it’s not usually my cup of tea. Think Grady Hendrix, A Head Full of Ghosts, The Hollow Places (except that one’s genuinely bad). Furthermore, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend so much time with an insufferable character like Jack Sparks.
I needn’t have worried on both accounts. First, this book doesn’t step on its toes too often and get in the way of its own horror. A lot of spooky stuff happens, and Arnopp knows when to pull back on the sassy asides and deliver the scares.
And when it comes to Jack himself, I’m not saying that I have to like or relate to the main character of any story I read. They just have to feel real. And Jack felt real. He’s a self-absorbed, cocky asshole. But the important thing here is that the author knows this. I go into every book I read as blind as possible, and I knew this before I was even aware just how crucial Jack’s outrageous ego was to the entire narrative. I’ve read books (thinking again of The Hollow Places, or Home Before Dark) where the main character is given loads of sassy quips because the author wants the demonstrate how quick and witty they are, but the result is a main character who just feels self-important and is condescending to every other character in the story. And that’s never resolved because it’s not intentional.
Those characters suffer from main character syndrome – they are aware they’re the star because the author is. But with Jack, the author doesn’t want him to be admired, and there’s a sad, lonely quality to Jack’s character that makes him much more compelling than those accidental assholes. I particularly like how he’ll write a small incident one way: “the couple refused to have a reporter tagging along, until they realized it was me, and they were big fans of mine…” but the same incident through another character’s perspective: “the couple didn’t want Jack tagging along, but relented when he offered them a load of cash.” This happens more and more frequently as Jack’s arc develops over the course of the novel, his ego being intertwined with the narrative in a crucial way.
The cover of this book calls this a thriller. While it’s thrilling, I’d definitively list it as an all-out horror novel. I don’t generally make those distinctions – horror, thriller, suspense, mystery, etc. are all branches from the same tree. But the horror and suspense is well-done here and must not be understated. It’s thrilling in the sense that the scares keep coming; no part of this book dips or drags or moves at a crawl. It’s all up and up until the emotional, exciting finale.
Finally, this book has a meta aspect in that for the most part you’re reading the manuscript of the main character, a fictional author. Sometimes meta can grate on me – in Magpie Murders, for instance, the book-within-a-book was a bit much at times. I loved it and its sequel, but it felt much longer than it really was. Here, as with its humor, it doesn’t intrude on the narrative too much to ever become annoying. It is used wisely to further flesh out Jack and his own inner demons.
So, all that to say I can’t recommend this book enough. Despite my jab at Grady Hendrix earlier, I was really enamored with My Best Friend’s Exorcism and gave it a great review. This one, though…it’s better. In terms of pacing, writing, story, scares, heart, and charm, it has it all. I’m so glad I picked it up off the shelf, and I recommend you do the same. 9/10.