The Bottom Line: Horror with heart. Treat yourself to this gloriously balanced, memorable and terrifying head trip.
Tech executive Johnny Hawk is rebooting his life. He’s decided to divorce his cheating wife, cash out of the company he co-founded, and embark on a cross-country journey to see his best friend in Los Angeles.
Not long after leaving Indiana in “Madeline,” a 1963 Jaguar that has been lovingly restored by his father, he decides to pick up a hitchhiker on Route 66. As luck has it, Jamie Anderson is also trying to make his way to Los Angeles, where he hopes to get steady work and become a writer. Hawk pays for his motel room and gives him some fresh clothes, no strings attached. As every horror fan understands, reckless behavior – such as picking up a hitchhiker – is bound to have dire consequences. Readers will find out for themselves whether or not that’s the case here.
Early on, author Davide Tarsitano shows us that he’s not interested in sticking to a well-worn path. The prologue, a grisly and well-crafted scene, signals that we could be in for a hopelessly dark story filled with torture porn. Those expectations are quickly squashed as Tarsitano shifts back in time, depicting Hawk’s interactions with friends and family in a time of despair. The result is a complex protagonist we can all root for, raising the stakes for the terrors yet to come.
That sets us up for the main course, when we’re introduced to Wendy Jag. Living in New Mexico, Wendy is a second-generation dentist whose destiny is obviously on a collision course with Hawk and Jamie. From the beginning, we understand that Wendy has been terrorized in various ways since childhood. Tarsitano’s setup is near perfect as we sit in on Wendy’s therapy sessions, meet Ben, her childhood teddy bear, and visit her father’s grave. The deeper we delve into Wendy’s psyche, the more addictive the plot becomes. If readers aren’t already hooked by what comes before the cemetery scene, they will be when they glimpse Wendy’s childhood drawing of “The Tooth Fairy.”
Highly recommended for horror fans.