By Jack Ketchum
While the book was a quick and easy read, I was a bit disappointed in it because it all felt so linear. A to B to C to D the end. I wanted some twists and turns or at least a surprise or two but got nothing. I arrived at the end of the book thinking “Hell, I could have written that, it wasn’t that complex.” And I suppose you don’t always need complexity for a book to be good. But it was just so predictable once it got going. And if that wasn’t the worst part, I lost even more of my enjoyment when I read the short “On Writing Joyride” at the end of the book. Jack Ketchum uses true life crime stories on which to base his fiction (and I learned that he does this a lot—I didn’t know) but it seemed like outright stealing when he described the cases he used for this story.
He describes the book La Bete Humaine by Emile Zola in which there is a scene with the antagonist wanting to kill his female cousin but manages at the last minute to tear himself away. He flees and finds himself on a deserted railway where he sees a figure with a knife bent over another person. He gets really excited because he sees someone doing something he has always wanted to do. Hmm, I mean this sounds extremely familiar, doesn’t it? Ok, you say, but what about the rest of it? Well then there is Thomas Braun a real life spree killer who shot/raped several victims while on a road trip and Howard Unruh who kept a diary of all the offenses he believed people committed against him and ultimately went on a rapid shooting spree in his own neighborhood. He even wrote the word RETAL (Retaliate) beside the names. He built a gate in front of his house, his shooting spree ended up in a standoff with police back at his own house.
What Ketchum did was take two true life stories and use much of the details in his own tale. Ketchum’s part in this story was to have the antagonist Wayne, who has homicidal fantasies, become obsessed with Carol and Lee the two star-crossed lovers, and kidnap them. He forces them to participate in his road trip killing spree. Wayne foolishly believes that they will enjoy it since he watched them kill her ex-husband. They do not of course and eventually become targets of Wayne’s unstable psychosis.
I found this whole thing difficult to believe. Wayne should be scary but for me, he was more of a comic book character to me. He came off as a slow and goofy caricature of a crazed killer. And Lee and Carole were so flat, I really had a hard time caring about them. Lee didn’t seem to be in love with Carole at all and I felt killed Howard more because he hadn’t liked him anyways. It seemed that the two were at the end of the relationship. Carole was more sympathetic as seen through the eyes of the lead detective on the case who had also been involved in prior domestic abuses between Harold and Carole.
I’ve read Ketchum’s Off Season and admittedly, I didn’t care for it either. I didn’t like the characters in it, couldn’t feel for them either. And there were times it felt more like a comic, an outrageous, unbelievable tale than a horror story. Also, I have met Ketchum in real life. He was at last year’s Stoker Con and will be at this year’s as well. He was a friendly enough guy and very down to earth and approachable. I am signed up to take a course he is teaching about using your past pain and hurt to make your own writing stronger/more believable. I hope I gain something from it. Had I read this book before signing up, I may not have.
Is it the worst book I have ever read? No. Did I hate it? No. It was ok. But this is the second book I have read of his that for me was just “ok”. It’s a simple and straightforward work and I couldn’t get into the character’s heads. When I pick up a book, I want to lose myself in the world that’s been created for me. This book (just like Off Season) just didn’t do it for me.