“An accomplished final third which builds tension and excitement in equal measure towards the explosive conclusion.”
Comparing an author’s debut novel to the work of an established author working in the same genre is a common promotional tactic publishers use to generate a buzz for a new book. However, comparing a book to three such genre luminaries, as is the case with Heather Herrman’s debut novel Consumption which the publisher has seen fit to hold up against Stephen King, Joe Hill and Sarah Langan no less, feels like both overkill and an unfair burden to lay upon the author.
So the question is, does the book manage to reach the lofty heights of these comparisons? The simple answer is no, but there is plenty of evidence that Herrman can go on to have a strong career alongside the authors mentioned.
Consumption is the story of John and Erma Scott who, following the loss of their unborn child, are travelling across the country in the hope of a fresh start and a rekindling of their marriage. Car trouble strands them in the small town of Cavus, Montana, where they are taken under the wing of the local sheriff who introduces them to some of the locals and takes them to the local festival which is taking place at the time. It is in this initial section that the strongest comparisons to the previously noted authors are to be found. Herrman does a great job depicting small town America and its quirky inhabitants. There are also storylines concerning an illegal immigrant boy and the estranged daughter of one of the sheriff’s deputies which eventually converge with the main characters as the evil takes hold.
The novel becomes less accomplished as the evil elements enfold the town. Characters fail to ask the obvious questions and seem to discount the strange occurrences they encounter far too easily. There is also one scene in particular, when the survivors are forced together and are contemplating their next move, which seems to escalate far too quickly and unbelievably and threatens to derail the book and lose the readers’ empathy with the characters. The author gets the book back on track with an accomplished final third which builds tension and excitement in equal measure towards the explosive conclusion, creating along the way a real sense of danger to the characters and firmly positioning the reader in a place where they are unsure which of the characters, if any at all, will make it out of Cavus alive. The backstory of the town is also a strong point; it is weaved assuredly into the narrative, without it ever feeling like an info dump, and gives a strong sense of a robust mythology.
The focus of the evil, Grady Anderson, has set up a factory to facilitate his plan to infect as much of the town as possible whilst gaining the trust of the locals through his apparent benevolence. However, although the havoc that he wreaks is well depicted with some creepy set pieces, as a character he feels underdeveloped and fails to reach the level of complexity of, say, Randall Flagg from The Stand or Charles Manx III from Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. A possible celestial origin is hinted at, but not embellished upon, suggesting perhaps the origins of the evil may have been more detailed in a previous draft.
Consumption is a solid horror novel with assured pacing and accomplished prose that marks it out as an above-average debut. It doesn’t reach the levels of originality or complexity required to warrant the comparisons to the genre triumvirate the publisher has burdened it with, but whilst it is unlikely to linger long in the reader’s mind, it does offer significant encouragement that the author may well hit those heights two or three books down the line.
Publisher: Random House Hydra
Release Date: 26 May 2015
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Consumption by Heather Herrman (UK)
Consumption by Heather Herrman (US)