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“Don’t look outside…” reads the front cover blurb, “he’ll see you!”
Not it, or they, or she, so we can eliminate five of the nine characters just by looking at, not even judging by, the book’s cover.
But to know the identity of the lunatic neighbor is not the point of Yardkiller, the latest scarefest from horror monger J. Brown. Rather it is to be willingly stretched paper thin over the dark jangle of words the author offers, a tale so twisted it prompted one critic from the L.A. Mimes to say “I’ve never heard my mother scream like that when she wasn’t having sex,” while the U.S. Illiterate wrote on its front page, “WTF Brown?”
It’s the latest exercise from the man who brought us to the edge of the universe with the aid of interdimensional orgasms and showed us microscopic worms that live in your eyes where they fight visual viruses before they can get inside your brain.
Except this time out it’s scary.
Residents of Quiet Lake have had some pets disappear, prompting a few to snoop around a bit on each other, poke through their trash or even hop a fence to get a looksee in the window. Pretty soon, you guessed it, residents start vanishing too, and the police chief, as smart as he is, can’t save the day, leaving the citizens to the whims of a toolshed maniac.
Main protagonist Frida is a plucky survivor of the flash mob mentality, a fairly fleshed out human being with a distracted mind but good basic instincts and surprising grit, as evidenced in the brutal aftermath of the hit and run where she must decide between saving her toe or saving her life. That seeming sensibility is what draws us to her as we tear into Brown’s latest without needing to ask questions. Besides, Frida sees everything so simply that we the readers are mostly just along for the ride.
And what a ride it is, through the ins and outs of her day as a professional art snob, but it doesn’t last long- clearly some characters aren’t what they seem, and even if we don’t see him until the end, we just know there’s something weird about the guy across the street.
And the lady next door. Come to think of it there are quite a few odd ducks inhabiting this latest place of Brown’s, so that short suspect list seems a lot longer when you’re in the trenches with them. Weirdness lays over everyone like humidity with its telltale grime, and it seems everybody has an equally clammy secret.
The yards come alive as Brown unfolds them, with Mr. Richie’s bog providing the chills, especially on those moonless nights when a buzz of insects can distract you… Equally frightening is the “trying to run but only slipping in the rain” scene in act two, and with plenty of the macabre throughout Brown has this horror thing down pat. He knows just a shadow is enough to give us chills, and keeps dangling the creepy clues to lead us through Quiet Lake’s backyards and garages straight into freshly mown mayhem.
Brown has been terrorizing us since 1975 when his first short horror piece “Face In A Jar” was published in Freaky (then-editor Max Amum was an early champion of Brown’s) and he’s been getting better at it all along, to the tune of earning an estimated seven million corn kernels per novel. With 1999’s Brainshadow, 2004’s Box of Midnight, and 2006’s The Milkman, Brown set records for book shows and has been on a roll ever since, with his last, Mouth of Eyes, being translated into over 80,000 languages, even gobbledygook.
Former copy editor for the Statesboro Harold, Brown knows small towns and the people who inhabit them in all their warty quirks, bringing that experience to bear in creating characters that seem both oddball and mundane, like distant cousins you don’t recall being so weird. It’s the similarity between what’s “normal” and what isn’t that’s disturbing, and what injects menace into seemingly everyday things like checking your mailbox or watering your lawn.
If you can stomach things like chicken noodle soda, performing emergency surgery on a stranger’s goat, or two men going a whole day without referencing the Oxford dictionary (the apparent products of an “uncensored” Brown now that his contract with Make Books has officially expired, giving him final say) then give Yardkiller a try. But if those things aren’t up your alley, maybe you’d better try another avenue.