By Glenn Rolfe
Published by Sinister Grin Press, August 1, 2016
One of my earliest guilty pleasure movies was Wrong Turn. I was obsessed with the backwoods creatures that knew no moral boundaries, who seemed to exist solely to inflict pain and eat other humans. This premise is ruthlessly terrifying, and I found myself, years later, equally frightened by Glenn Rolfe’s take on this vicious plot in his novella, Chasing Ghosts.
For such a short book, Rolfe is able to pack an immense amount of characters into the main plot—and not just filler, but characters you actually feel for. He opens with a ghost hunt gone wrong, where a group of young boys stumble into a dangerous family of monstrous humans. It then fast forwards a bit, following a punk band and their mistake to agree to play a show in the secluded woods. We are treated to a slasher-esque pacing of characters being picked off one by one, and as quickly as the blood-spilling and mayhem begins, it continues until the stories bittersweet end.
This book is brutal. It is relentless. The thrill moves at a breakneck speed. Rolfe depicts violence in such an empathetic, yet over the top way, that you find yourself cringing involuntarily when the action ramps up. There are few details spared to really bring that 80s horror vibe home. I could easily picture what was going on at every turn, as Rolfe’s writing has a very cinematic quality to it. Each page splashes across your imagination vividly, a feat that is not often achievable at this consistency.
While this is a book that I will remember because of its hard-hitting gore and horror, the amount of emotional work done in this book does not go unnoticed. The relationships between characters are well-established in a short period of time and still find space to develop in interesting, interconnected ways. This makes the pain felt by characters resound even louder as it’s felt by the characters close to them as well. Rolfe does what a lot of modern-day slashers can’t—makes you care if the characters live or die.
There were few things I was less enthusiastic about with this book. One, however, is that the title, combined with the summary, makes you feel like you are going to read something very different than what you get in the book. I was a bit confused when the focus of the book started to become clearer, but still, far from disappointed. The other small issue I had was with the late introduction of the law enforcement characters, who felt slightly forced into the fray. It would have been interesting to see them developed more throughout the story. I gladly would have read another hundred pages in this world!
All in all Rolfe’s Chasing Ghosts was a true treat to read in the dark, covers pulled tight. I’m looking forward to reading more in Rolfe’s catalog, as he clearly has an eye for horror and pulls off one of the more disturbing reads I’ve come across.
(Disclaimer: Review copy received from publisher. Thank you!)