My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If Stephen King's Under the Dome felt like a Greatest Hits rehash of of his own earlier, better books, then Nick Cutter's Little Heaven is a tribute cover band rendition of several of King's biggest moments.
They say imitation is flattery, and if that's the case, ol' Stevie has to be wearing a big, walloping grin on his face. Cutter has clearly, to say the least, been influenced by the King of Horror, and Little Heaven borrows liberally from titles like IT and The Gunslinger saga. The climax alone features several reminders from these books - an antagonist who challenges a member of Cutter's band of gunslinger mercenaries to a game of riddles, while others move their way through a deep cavern to square off against the ancient, and perhaps, timeless Big Bad just as elemental devastation begins to loom outside.
Before we get there, though, Cutter divvies his antihero protagonists' stories across the time stream, jumping back and forth between 1980 and 1966. After Micah's daughter is lured away from home by a demonic Pied Piped, he hurries to put the band back together, reuniting with fellow gunslingers Ebenezer and Minerva. Flashback to 1966 and how these three troublesome killers met-up, and then banded together as hired guns sent into a secretive religious compound, Little Heaven, to rescue a young boy from Bible thumping crackpots. Tucked away in the forest, our intrepid fighters learn there are savage monstrosities hidden in the woods.
Over the course of the book, Cutter weaves the two timelines together, a la IT, invoking evils both human and otherwise, telling a story that is pretty good but also fairly unoriginal. It's almost as if Cutter sat down and decided to write an honest-to-goodness Stephen King book, mimicking the sense of scope of King's biggest door-stoppers as they careen toward an apocalyptic finale. And while I found Little Heaven to be an engaging read, one that I was eager to return to over the course of a week, I was also quite cognizant that what I was reading was pure mimicry. Cutter has enough original ideas to play with, and he does so effectively, but so much of it feels drenched in knowing inspiration, and then we hit a finale practically straight out of Derry, ME.
I'm fairly conflicted over how to rate Little Heaven. I liked it quite a bit, and I suspect if I hadn't read several of King's biggest and best first I would have absolutely loved this book. But I'm also a bit troubled by a pattern that appears to be emerging in Cutter's works. The Deep got by on sheer entertainment value, and I was willing to give it as pass for its knowing tributes to movies like Event Horizon, The Thing, and The Abyss. Now that I'm examining Little Heaven, a book that is surely entertaining but lifts quite a lot of its material from King's cannon, I'm growing a bit leery of Cutter's ability to create original works of horror wholecloth. Yes, he writes some damn impressive, and gory, scare scenes, but the framing of these scenes feels far too...let's say, familiar.
Little Heaven has a few stand-out moments, and the reveal of the Big Bad is effectively chilling, but if you're well-versed in the works of Stephen King a lot of these elements will feel like a retread at the least, and like an altered xerox at the worst.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author.]
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