With just a few book titles under his belt, author Nick Cutter has already proven to be a definitive, distinct voice in modern horror. With an old school vibe reminiscent of early Stephen King and an uncanny ability to write gruesome, imaginative gore like no other, any Nick Cutter new release should be an instant, blind purchase. His latest, featuring tinges of Stephen King’s It and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, only cements his status as a current horror master.
The story of Jonestown and its notorious leader, Jim Jones, is already one of horror. But what if there was something far more sinister surrounding the settlement, something seemingly straight out of Hell? Cutter explores that very concept with his narrative set around the New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven, and a trio of mercenaries hired by a woman to check in on her nephew, who was possibly taken there against his will by his father. The moment the group arrives at the settlement, things quickly spiral from ominous to downright lethal terror, and it becomes clear that something is hell bent on keeping everyone from leaving.
The narrative alternates between two main timelines; the events surrounding Little Heaven in 1965 and the present threat of evil for our core characters in 1980. Cutter takes a while bouncing through time as he establishes the backstory of each main character while giving readers a small glimpse of the horror to come. The first quarter of the novel has an old west feel to it, as we’re introduced to Micah, Ebenezer, and Minerva, the hired guns who form a precarious, antagonistic relationship together after fate humorously merges their paths. The three aren’t immediately likable, which bogs down the first quarter of the novel in terms of pacing. The alternating timeline also detracts from a lot of the mystery; knowing which characters are around in 1980 makes it easier to predict some of the events in 1965. It’s completely necessary to get to know these characters, though, as the character work is what elevates this novel into something spectacular. It’s ultimately a tale of redemption, and it’s the impressive character work so intricately laid out that gives the finale a satisfying conclusion.
Once past the slower paced exposition and ground work of the main characters, the pace picks up dramatically and never let’s go. Little Heaven on its own is a very creepy place, particularly religious leader Amos Flesher, who shares very similar traits with Jim Jones, and the settlement’s strange children. When not a single character seems morally pure, the battle between good and evil becomes intriguingly murky. Throw in a monstrous evil of ancient horror, and the new twist to the Jonestown tale becomes both gory and epic.
One major pitfall in horror fiction is the inability to stick the landing after an incredible build up. This marks the rare instance where, after a thrilling crescendo of horror, the ending reaches an emotionally fulfilling climax and a powerful epilogue. The characters that felt tedious to get to know at the outset become the characters you hate to leave behind at the end of their journey. Fans of old school horror will have much to revel in with Cutter’s latest; it’s an epic tale of old, Lovecraftian evil versus old west gun slinging anti-heroes wrapped in a Jonestown bow. The first quarter of the book feels like the slow ascent of a roller-coaster, but once that ride tips over the edge it’s an adrenaline rush worth having.
Little Heaven is scheduled for publication on January 10, 2017, which gives you time to catch up on Nick Cutter’s The Troop and The Deep. Because if you’re not already familiar with this author, you’re going to want to get acquainted soon.
Little Heaven [Book Review]