Review: Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

 height=Ghost Road Blues

Jonathan Maberry

Pinnacle Books, 2006

Pine Deep, PA is the spookiest town in America; known nationally for its haunted hayride, quaint shops, and Halloween focused economy.  But Pine Deep hides a dark past and harbors a sleeping evil that, as Halloween comes nearer, begins to wake and spread a wave of violence and death.

Maberry’s Stoker Award winning novel opens with a flashback to a confrontation between the Bone Man (a guitar slinging, migrant worker, avatar for good)  and a man named Griswold (a serial killer and a perhaps something worse).  In this opening section good triumphs over evil, the Bone Man slaying Griswold, but only for a moment as the Bone Man is ambushed by locals and becomes the victim of small town bigotry and racism.  Bone Man, the hero, goes down in history as the killer when in truth he was the hero.  This blend of human horror mixed with the supernatural is something Maberry continues to expand upon throughout the novel.

Maberry opens the story proper with a classy bit that I won’t ruin, introducing one of our main protagonist: Malcolm Crow.  As is often the way in horror stories the protagonist is a bit twisted, a little sullied.  In the case of Crow he is a recovering alcoholic fascinated with the macabre.  He isn’t a bad guy but he is certainly odd.  A trait that follows with many if not all of the other characters.  As off-kilter as our hero(es) might be they don’t hold a candle to the villains.  Vic Wingate, a man who takes pleasure in beating his son and is also somewhat of a “disciple” and friend of the Griswold.  Karl Ruger, a career criminal with extremely violent tendencies and last, and perhaps my favorite villain, Tow-truck Eddie, a man who hears the voice of God thinks of himself as the Sword of God and does some pretty twisted things as such.

Maberry manages to create some truly interesting characters and shows a deft hand at creating gruesome and atmospheric scenes. Unfortunatley some of this is spoiled by pacing.  The disparate viewpoints of characters both good and bad drag a bit and, once things ratchet up towards the climax, don’t leave much room left for the explosive ending.  There are times when this slower pacing works, the tension of the hostage scenes with Ruger in particular benefits from the switching viewpoints of the parties involved, but the overall plot of the novel doesn’t really benefit from the snail like pacing.  That’s not to say the pacing ruins the novel, it doesn’t, but I think trimming a bit of the chaff (the novel weighs in at 476 page and, I think, about 140,000 words) might have made the book more of a page-turner.

By the time that climax comes you realize that there is no possible way all the stuff hinted at in the novel can possibly happen in the space that is left.  I knew going in that this was the first in a trilogy so I guess I should have suspected as much but I had hope that more of the cool, supernatural stuff hinted at throughout the book would have occurred in the book.  I was disappointed in the novel quite a bit, especially the ending, and almost skipped the (almost unnecessary) epilogue.

The writing was good and the plot interesting but things just didn’t mesh for me.  I had my issues with characterization as well and never really felt attached to protagonists of the novel and found the antagonists much more fascinating and felt Maberry’s writing was strongest when dealing with more horrific elements of the story.  Will I read the sequels?  Maybe, next time I have a long wait between other books I’m waiting for, but I’m not going to go out of my to do so.

Recommended?  I don’t know.  Maybe my disappointment with the story is clouding my judgement but for now I’m going to go with Not Recommended.

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