Hey there GoH fam! Dustin here again with another edition of ‘Recent Reads’, where I dive into my thoughts on three books I’ve read lately. In this one I dive into a couple of slasher novels that are built different, and one survival horror novel that takes readers on a dark descent!
The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
One of the most awaited horror releases of 2021 comes from bestselling author Grady Hendrix in the form of The Final Girl Support Group! What happens after the credits of a slasher film when the final girl has to continue on with the rest of her life? Mr. Hendrix’s book lets us know as protagonist Lynette Tarkington must find out if she and her fellow final girls are being picked off one by one through a mysterious conspiracy.
Spoiler alert: I loved this book. What I love most about it is that it’s a story about slashers but I’m never quite sure where it’s going. I’m constantly kept on my toes reading on to find out the next plot development as Lynette does herself. The author puts us straight inside her head in the present (well, the present of 2010) as she basically goes on a long journey/road trip after a catalyst event sends her on the move from her safe space.
As expected, the book is a satire of slashers but it is just as much a commentary on us viewers/readers who enjoy slashers, as well as how spectators treat victims of violence. In the novel’s universe, our main characters are victims of actual murderers while their life stories are adapted as slasher films. I don’t know what level of meta that is but I’m here for it. What I’m also here for is the giddy feeling of understanding a slasher movie reference and there’s plenty of that in this book. Grady Hendrix has made a lot of them easy to spot but there’s some deep cuts in there that’s guaranteed to light up the day of a slasher connoisseur. At least it did the trick for me.
I also appreciated how the book commits to its promise of showing final girl life after the credits roll. We get to see them after they get married, get rich, but we also see them in dark points of their lives. Most of the final girls and the films referenced are easy to spot but our main protagonist, Lynette, felt like life was breathed into a character from a lesser-appreciated slasher. While her fellow final girls have mostly moved on, her event has left her on-guard and paranoid for most of the book, so she makes some very, very questionable decisions that make her quite the interesting character to watch. Old-school final girls were usually archetyped as virginal do-gooders but to say that Lynette defies this is speaking lightly. She goes through such a harrowing and grueling journey to solve the mystery before she’s too late that it’s hard not to root for her, despite some of her decisions.
I didn’t find much in the way of dislikes for this one. However, I did feel like the unpredictable nature of the story gave room for me to think that the story may be a bit lost but that seems like more of a personal problem as when I got into the groove of the book, I was hooked.
Overall, The Final Girl Support Group is a fast-paced horror thriller, not-quite-slasher that pierced through this slasher fan’s heart and bone.
Security by Gina Wohlsdorf
In this horror-thriller novel, first published in 2016, staff of a state-of-the-art hotel are hunted down one by one by a pair of killers in the night before the place’s big opening. Are they random psychos, or are they part of a larger conspiracy at play? Author Gina Wohlsdorf’s debut novel lets it all play out from a unique point-of-view.
Slasher fans like myself will no doubt eat this one up as it’s a book that does not spare the reader from carnage. However, it knows how to play so as not to lull us into a false sense of… security (pun intended, forgive me). The author playfully places some “off the page” stuff, while at times letting it all hang out in gruesome detail. For instance, we may cut from a housekeeper being cornered to then cut back to them being bloody and butchered. In other instances, we may get expressive descriptions of every cut and injury a character goes through to escape. It may, dare I say, keep the seasoned slasher reader on their toes.
The bloody, gory bits are assisted with the book’s colorful cast of characters who have their own personal dramas play out as the story goes along. The book opens to them being what you may expect when it comes to their archetypes before being quickly expanded to be beyond them. Still, the novel knows to keep the reader engaged by toying with emotion. The book could be dead serious one moment, then darkly humorous the next. For example, our killers are described to be ruthless and menacing figures while also being shown playing card games or enjoying a meal after a fresh kill, all while wearing white masks from a certain slasher franchise. Their looks and attitudes made me think Michael Myers meets Ghostface!
Finally, I want to touch on what I think is the most unique and creative aspect of the book: the unreliable narrator’s POV. The person telling the readers the events of the book is initially unknown, only divulging information on their whereabouts, who they are, and their relation to the characters as the story goes along. This aspect gets pretty exciting because this narrator is not an impartial one, often spouting dryly witty commentary or perhaps sinister, skin-crawling implications — all in a seemingly lackadaisical attitude. The storyteller is also at a location where they can see all the security cameras in the building. As we are seeing the story unfold from their perspective, we see what they see on camera, and we also get descriptions about events happening simultaneously. This helped ramp up the suspense as we would have characters doing various things while the reader is closely watching who the killers will go for next. The author would show multiple passages alongside each other in separate columns so you get more immersed in the events happening at the same time. While it did prove challenging to adapt to this writing style, I found it fun once I got the hang of it.
At the end of the day, Security puts a fresh spin on a familiar tale. It does this by way of interesting and compelling characters, an inventive way of telling a story, brutal violence, and good old-fashioned suspense.
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Caitlin Starling’s debut novel has always been on my radar but I haven’t picked up The Luminous Dead until recently, and I’ve got to say it’s a worthy read! Published in 2019, this is a sci-fi horror book that tells the story of Gyre, a caver hired to explore the depths of a cave system on another planet. As if dealing with creatures called Tunnelers — which have the capacity to literally change the landscape of Gyre’s path — wasn’t enough, she also has to deal with her mind playing tricks on her as supplies go missing, mysterious figures appear in the dark, etc. Or could there be someone or something else down there with her?
The setting alone is ripe for tension and the author wrings a lot of it to great effect. The unpredictable cave system with unexpected bodies of water and tight spaces is enough for me, a claustrophobic, to be sh*tting my pants. With a minimal cast of basically just two main characters, there’s no room for excess subplots with this story. The focus is more on the two main leads’ struggles, both of the survival side and psychological side.
While there’s plenty of mention of the creatures known as Tunnelers, I dug that the focus is more on the mental terror brought about by the stress of being underground for days on end. Our caver, Gyre, starts to see people just outside of her vision that may not even be there. Missing caches of food and gear become fuel for paranoia. Even her strained relationship with her employer, Em, comes into play as the latter can control the caving suit the former is in any time she pleases.
Their relationship develops into a more intimate one, allowing the human side of both characters to seep in. However, this is also put into question as Gyre questions Em’s authenticity; is she really being friendly or is she just prodding Gyre along for her personal goals?
The book takes the less-is-more approach with the Tunnelers not showing up until late in the game, but their effects on the environment Gyre moves in is frequently affected. Oftentimes, posing as challenges, as advantages, then back to being challenges. At one point, Tunneler’s crossing could make a previously accessible path collapse. Later, a pool of water could be drained by a Tunneler passing under, making passage easier.
At some point, however, some of the conflicts become tiring as Gyre goes back and forth on trusting Em even though she herself has found reason to let her guard down, circling back on why she didn’t trust Em. I get that it’s showing Gyre’s vulnerable and imperfect humanity, and she does have points about Em’s selfishness, but I feel like it halts some of the plot progression.
Overall, The Luminous Dead is a satisfying deep dive into paranoid psychological horror. It mostly works thanks to its compelling protagonists and throat-choking situations, which sadly gets bogged down by some reoccurring aspects. The ending comes in with a save that sandwiches the waning middle with brilliant beginnings and ends.
And that’s it for this round of Recent Reads! The Final Girl Support Group and Security warmed up to my slasher sensibilities while showing me that there’s still ingenuity when it comes to slasher storytelling that doesn’t just come from creative kills (those are always welcome though!) The Luminous Dead reminded me that I needed more spelunking-gone-wrong horror stories in my life.
I found these books on Shopee and Lazada (fellow Filipino readers will know) but they’re also available on Amazon, Book Depository, and wherever else most books are sold.
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Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.