Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe..."

Kind Nepenthe

Matthew V. Brockmeyer

Publisher: Black Rose Publishing

Pub. Date: August 1, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Kind Nepenthe may have one of the most interesting settings of any recent novel of the supernatural. It is placed in the Humboldt County marijuana fields where matrijuana farming is sill a questionable occupation that is uncomfortably shared by the outcasts and the marginal hippie entrepreneurs. Pot farming is still illegal in California but the Washington and Oregon legal market promises a profit. This is a story about struggling for that second chance, elusive dreams and ghosts. While the ghosts hover over everything and eventually deliver the terror, it is the living that brings most of the pain and heartbreak.

Rebecca, her boyfriend Calendra and her 4 year old daughter Megan have left behind everything to take a job growing marijuana for a shady pot grower called Coyote who tends to promise more than he can deliver. His land was bought from the estate of a deceased biker named Spider. Down the road lives another aging biker, Diesel Dan, who has spent time in prison for Meth crimes and lost most of his family land to Coyote but feels he can pull it together for his 21 year old son and his son's pregnant girlfriend. His son though is making the same bad decisions his father did and is harboring anger over the loss of the family land not to mention the money Coyote still owes him and his father for farm construction work. There is a darkness around them all and little Megan is closest to it as she sees and talks to the ghosts that inhabitant the area.

As horror novels goes, this is a slow burner steeping in character building and the weaving of the threads that connect them. But Matthew V. Brockmeyer builds up the social and psychological tension so well that you might even miss a few of the more subtle supernatural chills. By the time the terror and the violence starts, you are caught up emotionally with these beautiful losers. Rebecca is basically the main protagonist. She is disillusioned with "getting off the grid" and is beginning to see that her boyfriend's plan of making enough to buy land of his own is just a pipe dream. More disturbing is her daughter's habit of talking to no one visible and playing with the dead bodies of the crows that litter the fields. Calendra tells Rebecca they will soon have enough to leave but doesn't tell her that he and Coyote are aware of a presence that keeps them rooted to the pot farm.

All the characters are flawed in major ways. It would be easy to say none are likeable but that would not be necessarily true. Of the adults, Rebecca is the most likeable and easy to identify with. But no one except perhaps Coyote is really evil. They all have their dreams even if they don't know how to fulfill it and keep it. What is intriguing about this story is that it is arguable whether there needs to be a supernatural aspect to it at all. It is dark and haunting in a very natural sense culminating in a multiple scenes of violence feeds off the dilemma they made for themselves. Yet the supernatural aspect does fit and it allows us to be concerned for the only really likeable character, Megan, who is the only one in the book involved in this dead end scenario for no reason of her own and has the most to lose.

Brockmeyer has created an fascinating world in his Humboldt County setting. It is a land of dreamers and outcasts, wannabe hippies and washed-out hippies, weary bikers with dreams and a younger and aimless generation enmeshed in drugs and guns. Among this the author adds a supernatural terror which starts slow and eerily but comes in full play by the end. Yet it is the characters in this dark tale of just-out-of-reach redemption that makes it work. You don't often come across a debut novel that is so unique in the horror field, one that speaks of scarred humanity so elegantly. For that reason alone, Kind Nepenthe deserves five stars.

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