The Sorrows by Jonathan Janz; Samhain Publishing, Ltd.; 2012; 272 pgs; $15.00 Trade Paperback, $5.50 Digital US

I’ve been reading Horror since I was 8 years old, and at the ripe old age of 41, I approach new Authors with the same enthusiasm I would generally save for a Root Canal or a Colonoscopy. I’ve been burnt so many times by “The next big thing” or “The hot new Writer” that I’ve become gun-shy. Truth be told, I read and collect so many established Authors, why go through the agony of being a guinea pig for someone just cutting their literary teeth?

So when it came time to review The Sorrows, I approached Jonathan Janz’s inaugural effort with a jaded gleam in my cynical eye. Janz immediately gets points for getting one of the most important parts of a Horror novel right: Location, location, location! Set on an isolated island off the California coast, Janz immediately gives us a creepy setting, and defeats technology (Also known as “The enemy of Horror novels!) by keeping his cast cut off from cell phones, the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and any other device that might make help readily available. These people are stuck, and stuck good. Janz got off to a good start…..

The story itself revolves around Ben Shadeland and Eddie Blaze, a couple of film score composers who are running up against a very tight deadline for their newest film, House of Skin. Ben is the musical member of the duo, Eddie is the arranger/mover and shaker…Eddie connives the film’s Director into springing for a month-long stay on a lonely island off the California coast called “The Sorrows”, a family vacation retreat built by a famous composer, now deserted. What better place to find inspiration to compose some creepy music? Eddie and Ben are dropped off on the island, along with a couple of female companions (Ben & Eddie’s new assistant, and the Film Director’s girlfriend), and find more than their fair share of inspiration….They find the proverbial “Ancient Evil”. I won’t spoil what form the book’s villain takes….I’ll just say that it’s one of the more underused Supernatural threats in Horror fiction. (It’s been used by some big names, though, so you have to admire Janz’s choice….It’s bound to draw comparisons with a certain big-name Author who is very well known, in the small press AND the mass-market, but Janz’s book is different enough to be it’s own animal.) The bad stuff starts happening quickly, and Janz does a great job of ratcheting up the tension, although I did wonder how he was going to sustain the pace he was moving at, considering the fact that he only had four potential victims to choose from. And that’s where The Sorrows takes what could have been a fatal misstep: Janz uses a massively out-of-place plot device as an excuse to introduce a new group of people to the island. Some of the new arrivals, while convenient to the plot, simply did not belong there, no matter how much the Author may have needed them to be. (I can’t think of any circumstance, no matter how dire, which would cause me to board a helicopter to rescue my Wife’s Ex-Husband, for instance. And if I did, I certainly wouldn’t bring a toddler with me……..) Janz keeps things moving nicely afterwards, but that was almost a deal-breaker for me. He also falls prey to the “Shocking last line syndrome”….the novels last line not only comes out of nowhere, but it made me wonder if I had missed something that would make such an event possible in the first place. (To say nothing of the fact that the aforementioned Brian Keene novel ended with pretty much the same predicament.) None of these complaints were enough to ruin the book for me, however. Jonathan Janz is a skilled Writer, his characters are well-crafted and believable, and for a first novel, The Sorrows is pretty damned impressive.

Jan 29, 2012

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