Book Review: A Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

Tremblay has a readily apparent love affair with humanity and it makes his story that much more vivid, poignant, and beautiful.”

When you think of great American storytellers, there are some pretty common, almost household names, particularly if you’re a fan of dark fiction. Joe Lansdale is one, Cormac McCarthy another, and of course, Stephen King. And now you can safely add Paul Tremblay to that exclusive list. In 2015 Tremblay published A Head Full of Ghosts and didn’t so much join the horror community as he did crash onto the scene like a tsunami on the beach. A Head Full of Ghosts made so many readers and reviewers best of year lists that it would be futile to try and list them all, receiving high accolades from critics and readers alike and ultimately receiving the Bram Stoker award for best novel.  With such a breakout novel, it seemed unlikely—maybe impossible—that the author would ever write anything to rival it. And it turns out that assumption was correct. Because Tremblay’s newest novel Disappearance at Devil’s Rock doesn’t just rival A Head Full of Ghosts, it passes it right by on its way to even greater heights.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock blasts out of the starting gate at a breakneck pace that doesn’t let up until the very end. With Tremblay’s piecemeal technique of disclosure he builds a story that is at once a mystery, a quiet, unsettling horror story, and a heartfelt story of a broken but caring family trying to find their missing son and brother, Tommy, who disappeared at a landmark in a local state park while hanging out with friends. The story, told through multiple viewpoints, introduces us to Elizabeth and Kate as they deal with the very real life horrors of a missing family member including the media, the oftentimes less than effective police, and the soul sucking rumor mill that is modern social media.

There’s something you realize right away when you pick up a book by Paul Tremblay and that is this: Paul is all about the people in his stories. That fact is evident in his narcoleptic detective novels, even more so in A Head Full of Ghosts, and remarkably, even more so in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. He takes a deep incisive look at every single character in the book. From the protagonists all the way down to the most inconsequential character in the story, he has an intimate knowledge of them all and he shares that knowledge in such a way as to make them seem more real than most other fictional characters in modern fiction. In fact you get a sense as you read that you’re not reading about fictional characters so much as real, living, breathing human beings. Tremblay has a readily apparent love affair with humanity and it makes his story that much more vivid, poignant, and beautiful. For the entirety of the book you feel like you’re living in the moment with these people, a feeling that intensifies as you go along, making you care more and more about the characters you love, and despise others all the more.

Another thing that Paul Tremblay does better than nearly everyone else, particularly in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, is narrator voice. Through the eyes of multiple characters, Tremblay utilizes a collection of narrative techniques that worked so well for him in A Head Full of Ghosts and that is no less effective for him here, combining journal pages, social media posts, and police reports with straightforward exposition, description, and dialogue to develop this tension fueled, character driven, often deeply disturbing novel that may be a ghost story, or may be something else entirely, like his previous novel, in which you were never entirely sure his character was possessed, Tremblay keeps you guessing about Tommy’s disappearance and about the shadow that Elizabeth sees in her darkened room that looks like it might be Tommy.

Though it’s a quiet, character driven story, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is no less horrifying than the most jump scare fueled horror you’ve ever experienced, maybe even more so as it deals with a very possible scenario in extremely realistic and frightening ways, drawing the events of the tale ever closer to home with each startling reveal. Tremblay is a storyteller of unrivalled ability and an instinct that seems natural but is only honed over a long period of time and only to this degree in the most dedicated and talented of authors. Like A Head Full of Ghosts in 2015, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock will likely make the top of practically everybody’s ‘best of 2016’ lists, and with damn good reason. It’s the highpoint of the year so far and it’ll be a huge surprise if anyone manages to come close to it, let alone outdo it. If you haven’t read the transcendent fiction of Paul Tremblay, you’re going to want to fix that soon. We can think of no better place for you to start than with the tour de force that is Disappearance at Devil’s Rock.


Publisher: William Morrow
eBook: (336pp)
Release Date: 21 June 2016

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