"Assistant District Attorney Keith Foster sat down at his kitchen table with a steamy coffee mug and picked up The Azalea County Herald. The headline above the fold made him grimace."
These Unquiet Bones by Dean Harrison is the epitome of a horror/thriller.
The story starts in Alabama during 1982. There's a mass slaughter in the news and the small town is dealing with the repercussions.
Cut to decades later. Seventeen year old Amy Snow wakes up after yet another bad dream. Always the same one. Always featuring the hidden face of a man she's named The Nightmare Man. Her dream is a memory from four years ago. Her mother's murder and an unknown man coming for her, looking to collect.
When her mother died, police searched for her murderer, but no trace was ever found. They had no evidence to go on. Amy's young mind blocked out the events after her mother's murder, and has two missing days that are complete blanks. She remembers being grabbed by the unknown man, then waking up in a hospital bed two days later. Her therapist said the mind represses traumatic events to protect itself. That the memories may come back, but they never did.
Amy is desperate for answers. To find the identity of the Nightmare Man is to destroy him, to stop him haunting her dreams, and to get justice for her mother. After her mother dies, suspicions turned to her father. A violent, abusive drunk, who her mother had recently kicked out of the house. But he's also an ex-cop, and he had a watertight alibi. Her maternal grandparents blamed him, but Amy hates them for it. The only parent she has left, she doesn't want to believe he could've had anything to do with it.
Adam is a killer. A sadistic, quite insane, ritualistic killer. He fights for a cause known only to him. He is searching for 'Eve', but not just any 'Eve'- the 'Eve'. The Lost One. He's on a mission from "God" to restore paradise. To bring back the Garden of Eden. To this end, he has to sacrifice 'Eve'. So far, all he's found are 'decoys', but he'll search for as long as it takes. To take revenge on Eve for tempting Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. He must punish her and right the wrongs, so that Eden may rise again. Adam is a 'fundamentalist' with a psychotic streak and little value for human life. Almost ironic, considering his cause.
Amy's father, Hank, has a secret. One that has haunted him for most of his life. One that causes him to obsessively drink, so the ghosts can be kept at bay. He loves his daughter, but the alcohol ruins him. Makes his abusive. He hates it, but he doesn't stop drinking.
Teenage girls have started going missing. The police don't think too much about it. Only three girls are missing, all believed to be runaways that'll turn up eventually.
Layne is Amy's best friend. He's also deeply in love with her. But he too has a secret. A dark past, something he can't control. Something that occasionally controls him.
Lots of different points of view in this book. There's a few more that I haven't mentioned, because I don't want to give too much away. Despite so many different POVs, it's not confusing. Most of the story focuses around Amy and (a little less so) Hank. A broken family that have a hard time trusting each other. Every family has a few skeletons in the closet, and Hank's certainly does.
Each character has their own ghosts. Which is really the focus of the story. The darkness each character has and the way they deal with it, or don't. How real are the ghosts that haunt them? How real do they need to be?
Every character is damaged. Some use that as an excuse to damage others, while the rest attempt to fix themselves, to rise above it. Even when their demons are still dragging them down.
A lot of the characters are not necessarily what you'd call the nicest people, or even good people, but most of them at least have a little good inside them that'll occasionally shine through. I'm torn between like and hate with most of them. They do unforgivable things, but because we see through their eyes (and the eyes of those who trust and love them) we are made to feel sympathy for them. Though, not all of them. The few genuinely good people, we want to protect and save, but are left utterly helpless to do so.
Religious fanaticism seems to be all the rage in horror/thrillers at the moment. Perhaps because of how easy it is to use as a mark of insanity. A terrifying one at that. To use religion as a reason for hurting anyone is wrong, but when the 'God' they claim guides them is one that exists only for them, it becomes all the more chilling. To take a dark voice in their head and make it the voice of 'God' creates a deeply disturbing character, but a good antagonist. In their minds they do no wrong, quite the opposite in fact.
This is an intensely tense book that keeps you guessing and strapped to your seat. The story starts off a little slow, but quickly builds in the traditional horror/thriller paced way. It's a very dark book. Not 'PG'. There's a lot of violence and the atmosphere is foreboding and oppressive. The plot twists, turns and writhes, occasionally giving the reader glimpses of what's going on, but never enough to reveal.
At the end, people are left picking up the pieces. There is resolution, but it's more straining than satisfying. In the end, I found that the reasons were unimportant. That I really didn't care 'why' or 'what' or 'who'. They just don't matter. There is so much suffering and violence in this story, helping to fuel the tension, that when it's over, you just feel weary and drained. It's very well done by the author, to make the reader feel the after effects along with the characters.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's very dark, which can make it a hard read, but it's worth it. The characters are gritty and not only flawed, but chipped and broken. Most of them are pretty unpleasant, which is something I haven't seen very often in a book. It's too dark to be a thriller, and the horror is a mix of the 'monsters-in-the-closet' young adult genre and the 'anything-to-be-disturbing' adult one. It's an interesting mix. Most horror will either try to scare you or disturb you. This does both. It's also a good look into the human psyche. To how much damage a person can sustain and how they deal with it.
Sometimes we can't forget. No matter how hard we try, our ghosts are always there. They always come back. So no matter what, never try to bury the unquiet bones.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.