It seems like it was in the distant past but it really wasn’t that long ago when the Leisure Book Club would ship two horror themed paperbacks to our mailboxs every month.  I remember eagerly waiting for those books, devouring them when they arrived, and then discussing them on the Leisure Message Boards with so many other fans like me.  Those books were from some the greatest horror authors of that time; Gonzalez, Lebbon, Keene, Piccrilli, Braunbeck, Kenyon, Everson, and Laymon, hell, anyone who was anyone wrote for Leisure back then.  Those novels were mainstream, written for mass consumption, you could even say they were formulaic to some degree. No matter, they were the balls to read and they fed the collective horror minds appetite. You don’t see many authors writing those kinds of novels anymore but there are still a few plying that trade.  Jonathan Janz is one of those authors.

Janz, part of the Samhain Press stable, has released at least nine novels through that press over the last three years. His novels hearken back to the heyday of those Leisure releases and they are just as much fun to read. The Nightmare Girl is his latest.

In, The Nightmare Girl, we meet Joe Crawford, his wife and infant daughter as they stop at a gas station to fill up.  While there, he sees a young mother abusing her son who is strapped in his car seat.  Joe steps in to stop the abuse, and it leads to consequences that he never would have dreamed of.  The young mother, and her mother, attack Joe viscously, and the police are called. As you might imagine, things don’t go well for the attackers and the young mother’s son is taken away. Later on, faced with the prospect of losing her son, the young mother approaches Joe and asks him to recant his story. He refuses, and that’s when his nightmare really begins.

Reading on, we discover that the young woman and her mother belong to a cult, a cult that celebrates death by fire, and then a rebirth of past members. The cult is going to make Joe pay for his involvement with two of their members, and his family will not be spared.  What follows is a string of gruesome deaths and a pulse-pounding finale.

The action in The Nightmare Girl is plentiful, violent, and horrific, it kicks ass from beginning to end. The characterization in the novel is to put it simply, superb. Janz goes beyond making us care about what happens to Joe, his wife, and the policeman Joe befriends…he has us actively rooting for them when the shit goes down. A good portion of why we care so much for these characters is Janz’s dialogue. The banter between Joe and the cop, and Joe and his wife is so clever and humorous, it’s a huge portion of what makes this novel so ejoyable.

The highlight of the novel for me was the ending.  It was B-movie perfect, with lots of killings, carnage, and a finale that could be used as a definition of those great horror novel endings of the 80’s and 90’s.

The man in charge of Dorchester/Leisure’s horror line before its demise was Don D’Auria, and D’Auria is in charge of Samhain’s horror line. It appears that Don continues to pick out the newest and best horror authors for publication, and he has certainly done so with Janz.  The Nightmare Girl is highly recommended.

About TT Zuma