I picked up the Dover Demon by Hunter Shea from a year end breakdown of the best horror novels in 2015 — the same list that gave me A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay and Little Girls by Ronald Malfi. If you haven’t read my reviews of those books, I’ll summarize for you: both were dark, world-altering, and filled with such awesomesauce that they leak a little bit of it into the world.
I was hopeful, maybe overly so, when beginning the Dover Demon: my expectation was for the same caliber and depth of material; a rich characterization, and some intestine-twisting plot. Unfortunately I didn’t hit a streak this time. The more I think about it, the more I worry that A Head Full of Ghosts has set my standards bar extremely high for contemporary horror, and it’s going to take a while to recondition myself.
This is one of those situations where you read something that you know if going to flavour the way you look at fiction for some time to come because it’s that good, and that mind bending, and as a writer, it makes you want to do better with your craft. As a result, you get increasingly more critical about everything you read afterwards.
To be blunt about it, Hunter Shea’s Dover Demon is the unfortunate “book that was read in the aftermath of something I liken to the Holy Grail of Horror.”
That isn’t to say that the Dover Demon is a bad story, it’s just rather loose in places, rushed in others, and a little flat when it comes to the cast of characters. It’s minimally gory but since I found it hard to sympathize with the victims, I didn’t find the fear at the core of it. It’s a typical story attempting to be scary but fails to do so largely because it’s horrific elements are the sensationalized Hollywood nonsense that bypasses the sincerity of approach that glosses over the truly grotesque aspects of human nature — the stuff that makes our bumbling mortal foibles truly awful things to play spectator to. Lots of opportunities in this book to really make the characters sympathetic; all of them were avoided in favour of building out a few alien creatures with some gross repopulation issues.
The Dover Demon in Summary:
The story follows a couple of families from the nineteen seventies into the present: back when Sam and Kelly and Tank and Stephanie were teenagers and they saw the creature for the first time on a drive to their favourite make out spot, or home from the movies, or wherever they were going — doesn’t matter. It was night time and they were in a car.
It shrieked a bit, dropped a few stinky eggs into the road, and they ran off as a host of masked men carried off the cargo while this thing watched them flee.
Little did they know they were secretly marked by the creature, and thirty years later when Sam’s kid is grown and Kelly is a gun-toting raging alcoholic with a hot body, the alien-things are coming back to collect. Collect what? We don’t exactly know, and the characters never exactly find out just what happened to them out on the road that night, and neither does the reader.
Insert a few underground tunnels and a couple of kids going missing, a few implanted eggs, and one sole survivor who’s doomed anyway, and that’s your story. Everyone dies anyway.
Sic transit Gloria Mundi.
Just because the bad guys win doesn’t make it a compelling horror read.
The Dover Demon by Hunter Shea Post Mortem:
That’s often the problem: if you feel no sympathy for the cast, it’s all too easy to sit back and hope for a slaughter.
The idea is original enough: at its core it’s a monster story that might be a story about aliens that carries a bit of folklore hacking. There’s definitely an overarching sense of Ridley Scott’s alien in the imagery, and I can say that’s where the novel succeeded: it’s gross, an easy read that won’t make you think too much, and easily translated to the imagination. You don’t have to squint too hard to see the bone crunching, smell the creatures, or get a sense of pain.
It’s just not enough to make the stomach flip. (Granted, I may be made of stauncher stuff than some people, but who’s to say what makes you squick.)
The problem is, the characters just aren’t thoroughly developed enough to make them more than two dimensional stick figures. You just don’t care. So kill ’em all.
Not my cup of tea, I suppose.
Here’s hoping that the next book I dig into is enough to cleanse my palette of A Head Full of Ghosts. I think the book’s ruined me for everything else that’s to come for a little while.
(I vaguely recall this happened after reading the entirety of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman some years ago. I couldn’t read anything for a month in the aftermath. It was too good; too perfect. I’m looking for a follow-up read now that won’t necessarily cleanse the palette, but at least reset a few switches so I can feel engrossed again.)
Published by Samhain Publishing on September 1st 2015
Check it out: Goodreads
The Dover Demon is real…and it has returned.
In 1977, Sam Brogna and his friends came upon a terrifying, alien creature on a deserted country road. What they witnessed was so bizarre, so chilling, they swore their silence. But their lives were changed forever.
Decades later, the town of Dover has been hit by a massive blizzard. Sam’s son, Nicky, is drawn to search for the infamous cryptid, only to disappear into the bowels of a secret underground lair. The Dover Demon is far deadlier than anyone could have believed. And there are many of them. Can Sam and his reunited friends rescue Nicky and battle a race of creatures so powerful, so sinister, that history itself has been shaped by their secretive presence?