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Book Review: In the Shadow of the Axe by Nicholas Kaufmann

“Block out some time when you decide to read In The Shadow of the Axe because you’re going to have an extremely difficult time putting it down once you start.”

2016 has been a banner year for all types of great horror fiction. From weird cosmic horror to straight up traditional fare and all points in between, it seems like some of the best books of the last decade have all happened in one little slice of time, compressing years worth of great creations into a literary singularity of sorts. And gothic horror is no exception, having seen exemplary and brilliant fiction from such authors as Jonathan Aycliffe and Andrew Michael Hurley, among others. One of those others is Nicholas Kaufmann, the creative superstar behind Dying is My Business and Die and Stay Dead, two books in a series that takes urban fantasy to new and exciting places. Kaufmann is a writer who likes to change things up and you almost always see him offering something new and unusual with every publication, that series being a perfect example, and In the Shadow of the Axe, his newest book from Crossroad Press being another one.

When Kasch Möllhausen is kicked out the Swiss boarding school where he’s lived for several years, he expects his homecoming to the German village where he was born to be humiliating. What he doesn’t expect is to discover that his father is dead and in the ground. He’s further surprised to learn that his father left instructions not to tell him or to invite him to the funeral. But those things will pale in comparison to the horrific secrets he will soon unveil. The year is 1847 and the tiny rustic village of Helmburg is a haunted place that exists in the lee of a burned out castle where a shadowy figure known as the Necromancer once lived until a group of villagers finally killed him. But it quickly becomes clear that not all is well in Helmburg as the survivors of that uprising begin to turn up dead, ruthlessly chopped to pieces in the night, and Kasch finds himself enmeshed in a search for answers that might just change him and the people of his hometown forever.

What In the Shadow of the Axe does more than anything else is to showcase Nicholas Kaufmann’s uncanny ability to surprise the hell out of you when you think you’re sure about where the story is going. He has a knack for taking what seems like a straight-forward plot and twisting and mangling it in strange and unexpected ways. The story starts out innocuous enough, with Kasch trying to settle back in and reacquainting himself with his first love, but it doesn’t take long before things begin to spiral into madness. Kaufmann has created the perfect setting in the dark and brooding shadow of the mountains and the burned out castle, and he’s given his characters perfect voicing for the type of story he tells here, rustic and superstitious and eerily oppressive in the way that the best of gothic thrillers always is. It’s a tale with a high fear factor, some truly terrifying ghosts, and off the charts entertainment value as Kasch gets closer and closer to a horrible truth that he just might wish he’d never sought in the first place.

Block out some time when you decide to read In The Shadow of the Axe because you’re going to have an extremely difficult time putting it down once you start. Kaufmann’s authorial voice is natural and engaging and you always feel more like you’re experiencing the story rather than reading it. He’s got finely honed show-don’t-tell skills and his imagery is as haunting and mesmerizing as his voice is captivating, keeping you firmly within the bounds of the story until he eventually throws a major shocker of a reveal at you, taking you completely off-guard with the sudden and altogether unexpected turn that will leave you shaking your head in wonder.

If you’re already a fan of Nicholas Kaufmann you probably don’t need to be told that you should read this book, but if you’ve yet to experience his work, this is a fantastic place to make an entry into it. It’s a quick, immensely satisfying read that will leave you impatiently tapping your foot while you wait for his next book to materialize.

SHANE DOUGLAS KEENE

Publisher: Crossroad Press
eBook: (156pp)
Release Date: 24 September, 2016

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