You want to know something? Jack Kilborn isn't right in the head. They say you've got to be a little off upstairs to write horror stories in the first place, but...sweet mother of pearl, somebody dropped Kilborn on his skull five or six times then fed his psyche into a Veg-O-Matic for shits and giggles just to see what would come out on the other end ("It slices...it dices...it warps fragile little minds..."). The most likely culprit? Joe Konrath, the real live writer behind Kilborn's pseudonym.
Pseudonyms make authors do strange things sometimes. Everybody now knows that King was Bachman, and about the nicest thing a person can say about Bachman's novels is that it's Stephen King writing without the help of his own conscience. Kilborn takes much the same route, eschewing Konrath's lighter, more humourous detective fare in favour of a carnivorous rampaging beast of gore-strewn typeset pages chemically treated with water-soluble adrenaline. Because, dammit, if you pick this thing up and don't finish it in one sitting, then you're either a weenie or you were wearing gloves.
"Afraid" is an apt title. Simple, six characters, one word. It's alarming how much meaning one can cram into such a small word, but it's exactly what everybody in a small Wisconsin town of fewer than 1,000 people is about to feel over the course of one night's rampage. Kilborn's idea isn't new: serial killer novels have been around for decades. Kilborn's take on it, however, puts him quite plainly in the ranks with Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, and Dean Koontz at their most over-the-top, bizarre and deranged.
The military spends billions of dollars every year in the effort to turn regular soldiers into hardened killers. What would happen if someone decided that maybe they were going about it in the wrong fashion? Instead of trying to teach men to ignore their conscience, suppose they decided to simply take a bunch of sociopaths and run them through Special Forces training? Not because of the damage they could do on the battlefield, but rather what they could do off of it. Murder, torture, rape, nothing is off the boards when it comes to waging war in the 21st century.
There's only one teeny-tiny little problem: a team of these remorseless Rambo/Hannibal Lector crossbreeds has gotten loose in backwoods Wisconsin, in a little town named "Safe Haven". They're all looking for one person in particular, and they'll rip the entire town apart, finger by finger, arm by arm, throat by throat, in order to find him.
The government's serious about stopping them--they've cordoned off the entire area, sent in a dozen Green Berets and a scientist who knows a lot more than he's telling about the group. Maybe they should have been a little more serious, as the Green Berets get turned into mush within minutes of setting down.
Kilborn wastes no time getting straight to the point: in the opening chapters people get their skin stripped, fingers broken, toes bitten off, eyes gouged out, throats slit, heads twisted off, legs shattered, ears ripped, hearts impaled, testicles squeezed...and it only gets worse from there. Nothing is sacred, no torture too obscene, no method too unsavory for Santiago, Taylor, Ajax, Bernie and Logan to acquire the information they want.
Stuck in the middle of the carnage are a lot of people who don't know anything and are scared out of their wits. The power's out all over town, cell phone reception is a joke, and the only road out of Safe Haven is being guarded by a freaking tank. There's no place to run, no place to hide, and no way to call for help. Now it's up to a small group of townies led by a ready-to-retire sheriff and a younger fireman/paramedic to find out why hell decided to show up in Safe Haven, and put an end to it if at all possible.
This book is adrenaline on steroids that has been liberally laced with PCP and cocaine. It barely stops moving to let you catch your breath before tossing the characters from one frying pan into another and one can envision Kilborn cackling gleefully as he reaches into his spice rack for another dash of pain, a cup of mayhem, a pinch or two of disaster, and two massive sticks of "oh my God he did NOT just go there". Yeah, he did.
By the end of it all, your psyche will be a brutalized wreck just like the poor protagonists who had the misfortune to cross the Red-ops team. You'll hate yourself for having read it so quickly, and hate yourself more for having enjoyed it so damn much that you're ready to find anything else Kilborn has penned and devour it just as handily.
Either that or you'll be in desperate need of a barf bag.
Me? Let's just say I'm preparing for "Trapped" thanks to the short excerpt at the end of "Afraid." Bring it on, Mr. Konrath.
If you'd like, the author also has a fun little Flash-based browser game based on the novel here:
The concept is simple: just browse the text that shows up and click on every instance of the word "Afraid" that you find. It's not as easy as it sounds.