Tony Anastos is a smug, smarmy, self-involved, low-budget indie horror filmmaker. He and his friend, Burt, make and release low-rent slasher flicks, but when they cross paths with Anna, a sexy minx with dreams of stardom, Tony is struck with a minor epiphany. Anna is his new star, and her glitz and glamour are going to catapult both of them into the big-time. She's his key to creating a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund his next film, which will see Anna wow the gore-hounds as a cinema's new, preeminent, slasher villain.
As is the case with prior books from Adam Cesare, particularly Video Night and Con Season, the author's love and affection for the horror genre in all its many forms bleeds through the page. And as with Con Season, you get an authentic insider's feel for the material as Cesare, a former Boston University film student, guides reader's through the behind-the-scenes process of indie film-making. If you've read any of his prior material, or check in with his YouTube channel with any degree of regularity, then you know first-hand just how much a horror buff Cesare is. He knows his stuff and all the various levels of genre fandom, from the low-budget indie flick scene to the sprawling conventions.
All of this is, of course, on display in The First One You Expect, a quick, down-and-dirty horror novella about film-making and the price one may pay, willfully or otherwise, to reach their dreams. Tony's an odd-duck of a character, one that isn't really likable but who is at least depicted honestly. He's not a good guy, but possesses an unusual amount of self-awareness, even as he brushes aside whatever thin, shallow bits of morality remain. He does stupid things and makes plenty of bad decisions over and over again. While he worries about the long-term repercussions of these actions, it's usually not enough to stop him from dreaming big, even if these dreams only serve to dig him a deeper hole. Tony is really his own big bad in this story.
Anna makes a wonderful foil for Tony and Burt, and by book's end I found myself wishing this title were longer than its novella length simply to see more of Anna in action. Like Tony, I wanted to know more about her and get inside her head (an impossibility, as The First One You Expect is confined only to Tony's POV). You can sense a deep sea's worth of story surrounding Anna, even if the story is strictly about Tony's reactions to her. She's a great character, though, and her and Tony's burgeoning work relationship gives this book an edgy noir flavor that I appreciated.
Fun and compulsively readable, The First One You Expect kept me turning the pages, and Cesare's prose is deceptively easy writing that rapidly moves the story along. The ending caught me a bit off guard with its abruptness, and what I wouldn't give for a few more pages to spend in Tony's cynical and bloody world. This is a good one gang!
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