Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Beware the Pine Barrens!

The Jersey Devil

By Hunter Shea


Publisher:  Pinnacle 

Pub. Date: August 30, 2016

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

As far as legendary critters go, The Jersey Devil may not be on the level of Bigfoot or Nessie but it certainly has a cult following all its own. A flying creature with hoofs and bat wings with a satanic appearance has been said to be spotted in New Jersey's Pine Barrens. With a legend going back to the 18th century and a slew of sightings from the turn of the 20th century, it is certainly grist for the horror writer's pen. There have been a few novels to tackle The Devil but none are so imaginative and gruesome as The Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea.

Hunter Shea certainly loves his cryptozoology. The last book I read by him, The Montauk Monster, took on a similar East Coast event featuring a strange creature but the novel seemed a little too formula for me. Not so with The Jersey Devil. It starts off running and keeps its fast pace throughout its 300 plus pages. It is best described as being in a "Monster slasher" mode. There are several narratives flashing by in the book and most of the narratives end up with a body count. In fact, the endlessly switching narratives are one of the things that didn't work for me. It left parts of the tale feeling slightly fragmented. Fortunately the main narrative works the best and involves 80 year old Boompa Willets and his Pine Barren family who have a strange and dangerous connection with the Jersey Devil. They, along with a popular author of Cryptozoology books named Norm Cranston, seeks out the Devil in the midst of several sightings and disappearances. It becomes clear that the Willets are not so much attempting to reveal the truth of the monster as much as attempt to stop it and his connection to their family once and for all.

The Jersey Devil, like The Montauk Monster, is best described as an old-school horror novel of the monster variety. There is a mysterious legend, a monster to go with it, and lots of gruesome killings and disappearances. In this case, tons of killing. The amount of violence and gore is quite high here and Shea is not above throwing in his own share of very disturbing scenes. What really hooked me in this story is that the author places his own creative spin on what the creature is all about. He blends in much of the traditional legend regarding the origin of the Jersey Devil but then adds a twist that rewards the already exhausted reader halfway through. It is a spin that works because of the portrayal of the Willet family which is full of mystery and obsession. Also adding to the appeal of this tale is Shea's eerie descriptions of The Pines Barrens. The Barrens takes on its own personality and, although I never thought of anything in New Jersey as wilderness, thanks to Mr. Shea, I do not want to get lost in the Pines Barrens in the near future.

The bottom line is that The Jersey Devil is a monster novel. But it one of the best to cme around in a while. It has old fashioned scares coupled with a 21th century taste of the weird and gruesome. It should be loved by most horror fans.

No comments:

Post a Comment