Book Review: Scapegoat by Adam Howe and James Newman

“… gripping, exciting, at turns both funny and horrific. Action-packed and so much fun.”

 

British author Adam Howe won the international On Writing competition, his short story “Jumper” selected by Stephen King himself. He has since gone on to publish Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet (Comet Press, 2015) and Tijuana Donkey Showdown (Comet Press, 2016), cementing his place as an exceptional storyteller and master at blending horror, crime and comedy elements to create thoroughly entertaining and popular fiction. American James Newman has won much critical acclaim with his own style of dark and suspenseful horror, including The Wicked (Apex Book Company, 2017), Midnight Rain (Cemetery Dance Publications, 2016), Animosity (Permuted Press, 2014), and fan favourite Odd Man Out (Bloodshot Books, 2016) amongst many others. Most recently he has also found great success collaborating with other authors such as Mark Allan Gunnells and Mark Steensland. Given the high level of their own work, not to mention how much they both have in common and the friendship and professional appreciation that has formed despite the distance, we approached this collaboration with great expectations. Howe and Newman did not meet those expectations; they exceeded them.

The idea of taking a disparate group of people and placing them in peril to see how – or if – they’ll make it out is a tried and tested storytelling technique. Indeed, Howe and Newman are open about their influences on this book, including movies Race With The Devil, Prince of Darkness and Red State as well as many others. And it is a technique they employ with great skill here. Childhood friends Mike Rawson, Lonnie Deveroux and Arthur ‘Pork Chop’ Miller take a road-trip to Wrestlemania III in Lonnie’s motorhome. Although they were all friends in high school, some tension still lingers since Mike quit the band all those years ago. He likes to think he has grown up while Lonnie and Pork Chop desperately and embarrassingly try to hold onto their youths. But family life hasn’t been easy for him and he sees this trip as a chance to unwind. Lonnie has the same goal in mind, but a different interpretation of “unwinding”. Unbeknownst to Mike, he has brought along bubbly Cyndi from the bar, all peroxide blonde hair and squeaky voice. To further complicate matters, when he told Mike he had front row seats for the main event, he neglected to mention the shady deal he was involved in to get the tickets, which they would receive on arrival.

This is the sort of premise you may expect from an Adam Howe book, where he adds a great cast of oddball characters, an action-packed story about a chase or a quest, and hilarious dialogue and set-pieces. But the introduction of the sinister and ruthless cult adds yet another layer to the story. The motorhome is soon lost in a rural, wooded area where the only radio transmissions they seem to be able to pick up is mysterious and chilling religious preaching, and they come across a naked and injured young woman, words carved into her skin. They decide to take her with them, fending off the attacks of her captors and making a run for it. But the cult isn’t about to let their scapegoat go so easily. As they see it, there is so much at stake.

What follows is an exhilarating chase and fight between two opposing forces who each believe they are on the side of good. The pursuers will stop at nothing to fulfil their prophecy and protect mankind, while Mike and his friends just want to protect an innocent young woman from her attackers. It is everything you would hope to read from Howe, and he sure knows how to write compelling characters, but the input provided by Newman adds further depth to the characters, as noted by the authors in their story notes at the end of the book. They are both incredibly talented writers, with a penchant for gruesome horror as well as thrilling stories and realistic characters.

If there was one word that could be used to describe the whole book, it would be ‘unputdownable’. It isn’t the prettiest word, but it best conveys our feeling about the work. It isn’t filled with paragraphs of pretty prose; it isn’t that kind of book. But it is gripping, exciting, at turns both funny and horrific. Action-packed and so much fun. The whole package of the book, from the cover to the story and the extensive authors’ notes, recommended viewing and playlist at the back, and the interior layout of the book, is wonderfully put together. A great deal of love and attention went into every aspect of this novel, and the combination of the co-authors’ styles is tremendous. It’s a match made in hell, meant in the most complimentary way possible.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Honey Badger Press
Paperback: 220pp
Release Date: 5 October 2018

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