Greetings and salutations. Today, that fine chap Thomas Joyce has been kind enough to guest review Those Who Follow, By Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, published through Bloodshot Books. Thomas has been a big supporter of my blog for as long as I can remember and I am very thankful for his support and contributions. A writer himself, Thomas has a story in the Halloween issue of Unnerving Magazine out very soon. Expect a review of that from me before the month’s end. It’s a great magazine and I am particularly looking forward to this bumper issue that is sure to be chock full of festive horror!
Those Who Follow reviewed by Thomas Joyce.
If you follow the world of indie horror, you will be familiar with the names Melissa Lason and Michelle Garza, aka The Sisters of Slaughter. Their debut novel, Mayan Blue (Sinister Grin Press, 2016), was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Those Who Follow, a serial killer, survival horror story with a supernatural twist, was released in July of 2017 by Bloodshot Books. And I’m happy to report that this is no sophomore slump.
The story opens with a young lady hitchhiking through the unforgiving heat of an Arizona desert. Celia chose the life of a wandering traveller, much to the disappointment of her adoptive mother, but she is having a particularly rough time. Especially when she finds the ramshackle church that is home to the prisoner-wives of Byron, an especially heinous and disturbing character. His brutality knows no bounds, as is evidenced by the way he marks the women, carving the last two digits of the year he kidnaps them into their foreheads. Thus, Celia becomes “Fourteen”, joining Sixty-eight, Seventy-one and Ninety-seven. Lason and Garza don’t hold back with the depictions of violence, nor does it ever seem gratuitous; they simply want to relay the horror of the situation and the machinations of the antagonist.
A storyline running concurrently with Celia’s struggle to free herself from Byron’s clutches is that of Casey, a troubled young woman in a psychiatric facility. Despite her insistence that she can see and hear things that seemingly aren’t there, the staff refuse to indulge her. Until the night the number 14 is etched into her forehead by an invisible object. Even then, the consensus is that she somehow did it herself. But one nurse, Javier, does believe. He has faith in the existence of powers and worlds beyond human perception, mostly thanks to his grandmother, and he helps Casey to escape and pursue her quest to find the twin sister she never knew she had. For, thanks to their psychic connection, Casey knows that Celia is in trouble and only she can help her.
The story unfolds at breakneck speed as the narrative passes through the mysterious portals separating the two worlds, with parts of the story told from both sisters, as well as the human wife who lives in “our” world and has no idea of Byron’s true nature. We are taken along for the ride as Casey must rely on the guidance of Javier’s knowledgeable grandmother and race against time to rescue Celia from the clutches of the nefarious Byron. No doubt the bond shared by the Sisters of Slaughter informed the writing of the main protagonists, but it still takes a great deal of skill to convey that to the reader in a meaningful way, as well as developing the other characters, especially Byron. I can’t imagine it was very easy to get into the mind of someone so cruel and depraved, yet Lason and Garza manage it with style.
The revelation of Byron’s back story is handled with similar expertise. There is no “info dump” with regards his ability and the nature of the other world. Rather, it is developed throughout the narrative at a methodical pace, just enough to appease the reader and pique their interest without revealing too much too soon.
Given the connection shared by Celia and Casey, and given the mounting suspicions of men who share the same ability as Byron, without the psychotic tendencies, it really is a race against time before Byron decides to cut his losses. The way the tension grows and grows towards the explosive finale had me gripped. I found the story very entertaining from page one, but as it progressed I found myself unable to put the book down. If it is a thrilling, entertaining and well-written story you are looking for, look no further. You’re in the capable hands of the Sisters of Slaughter. Strap yourself in!
5/5 dark highways.
Pick up a copy from here.