Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

Ghost Road Blues (Pine Deep, #1)Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Ghost Road Blues was a great book to read during the month of October, as part of my 4th Annual October Scare fest. I love that spooky mood that comes along with the fall, when the days get shorter, the nights longer, and the weather cooler (hopefully).

Although this novel was very good, and well-written, I have to put in in the 'liked fairly well' as opposed to 'loved or really liked' category.

Let's talk about the stuff that didn't quite work for me:

*I think that this story depends a bit too much on the human evil quotient for my tastes. That doesn't make it bad at all. However, I like supernatural horror, and inhuman monsters. I know all about the evil that men are capable of. Just turn on the news or check Yahoo's home page, and you will get your fill of that. For this reader, when I pick up a fiction novel in the horror category, I want to see some nasty, unreal, supernatural baddies who scare the heck out of me, but hopefully get thoroughly vanquished by the good guys. Yeah, whatever, the cynics will revile me for my hopelessly optimistic nature. That's okay. Life sucks. We all know that. But hope is what keeps us going. Hope makes the heart keep beating. Reading about horrible people and their horrible acts on others doesn't do it for me. In this case, Maberry takes the supernatural and wraps it around a whole lot of human darkness. He does it well, I can't deny. And he doesn't make this book overflowing with gore and gratuitous violence, which is a plus. However, reading about an evil waste of skin stepfather nearly beating a kid to death, a psychopathic criminal abusing and/or murdering numerous people, a racist mob beating a black man to death is a lot to handle, and let's not forget a religious fanatic who hears the voice of God in his head and commits unspeakable acts in God's name--it's a bit much for me, even if it ties seamlessly into the story.

*I had some trouble tying all the pieces of the puzzle together. The werewolf angle came out of nowhere. I was like...huh? I think that needed a little more gradual building in the narrative. And what's going on with Terry's sister's ghost? Is she really trying to get Terry to kill himself? I felt like the secondary characters were more like chess pieces waiting to be moved around in the following books. I'm not sure I liked that feeling. I still don't understand the roles that everyone is playing here. I know it's working out to be epic, but I don't know if I like all these unanswered questions.

*I know this is a trilogy, but I was feeling a bit unsatisfied with the way this book ended. It might be my dissatisfaction with cliffhangers I'm feeling lately. I feel like I'm being coerced into reading the next books, which is probably exactly what the writer and publisher want. Fortunately, I am interested enough to keep reading. I got this feeling I was just scratching the surface in this novel. Yes, I know this is part of a series. But I honestly feel that a book in a series should be written in such a way that someone who doesn't read the whole series can still feel that they read a self-contained story. I don't like that whole, "Wait, there's more aspect" very much. With this book, I felt as though I was almost watching the trailer for the whole series. Tantalizing glimpses, but not coherent or satisfying if one doesn't watch the movie (or in this case read the whole series).

Now the good:

*Something about small town life--the reading of it, not the living in it--that gets me every time. Fans of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot will likely enjoy the view of small town life on offer in this book. Maberry's approach to characterization does bring to mind Stephen King, but it's not a copy cat. It's more of a feeling that Mr. King was an influence for Mr. Maberry. He does enough of his own thing that it feels like Maberry's work, not a King Redux. That whole fishbowl effect, where the darker natures and acts of the town's inhabitants line the bowl like the scum that builds up over time, is very evident in this novel. The vagaries of the various folk in and around Pine Deep lay important groundwork to the story, although again I could have gotten more depth here. I did feel like I could drive down A-32 and spent a couple of hours in Pine Deep.

*Atmosphere in shades. Maberry writes description beautifully. He captures the ambience of living in the rural part of Pennsylvania, with forest, swamp, river, stream, fields ripe with crops, and mountains all around. He must have traveled to this area, because this book shows a tangible familiarity with this region.

*I admired Crow, Val, and Mike as main characters. I loved the Bone Man, and cried out because of the injustice he experienced. Terry seems like a lit fuse ready to set off a powder keg. He's sympathetic, but makes me worry for the future. I liked how Maberry built up Crow's character, giving him a well-rounded feel in his love of the macabre, blues music, his car, and his love for Val and his friends, not to mention his fundamentally good heart. I liked seeing both his strengths and weaknesses. He's a really good unlikely hero.

*The ghost aspect was great. I liked this a lot more than the crazy evil humans. I sort of wish this was played up a bit more. Righteous spirit versus vengeful ghost instead of resurrected murderer who turns out to be a werewolf with godlike/demonic powers would have read so much better. Alas, it wasn't my story to tell, and who says I could tell it better than Mr. Maberry?

*The evil folks/things are very evil. The menace isn't always clear-cut, but it's very apparent. That's definitely a plus in this novel.

Wrapping Things Up:

This is my first read by Jonathan Maberry. He's a good writer and I think he has some stories to tell. This one is an interesting story, although maybe not what I expected or wanted. It was a worthwhile read, and definitely a good one for reading in October. I have the next two books, and I will read them since I want to see what happens next (a good thing as Neil Gaiman has said). I'd also like to read other books by this author.

I'd recommend this if you don't mind reading about loathesome human beings and like the small time vibe.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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