I've switched over to reading e-books almost exclusively, but back when I was making obsessively compulsive trips to our local Big Chain bookstores I would see paperbacks the publisher had labeled as a Guaranteed Good Read. I don't know if this marketing practice is still in use, but I think it's a label that should be slapped onto the covers of Hunter Shea's books. I've read half a dozen Shea books so far, and not a single one has been a disappointment. If anything, the dude just keeps getting better and I'd say The Jersey Devil is certainly a high-water mark.
As the title indicates, this book is about - wait for it! - the Jersey Devil, a rather infamous cryptid lurking deep in the Pine Barrens. Shea knows his cryptid mythology, and unravels it in entertaining fashion here, giving it a fun bit of horrific depth and adds a few new wrinkles of his own devising. This Jersey Devil is a big, mean, old son of a gun, and hungrier than Chris Christie at a football stadium's concession stand!
While the monster element is certainly a load of fun, it's the human element that really makes the story shine. The Willet clan are a family of farmers, with their eldest patriarch, Sam "Boompa" Willet, having once previously squared off against the Devil and managed to survive. When people begin to go missing in the woods, and rumors of Jersey Devil sightings crop up again, Sam knows it's down to he and his family to finish the job he started decades prior.
Let me just say, first and foremost, the Willet clan are a fun bunch to hang around with for a few hundred pages. Sam is an easy favorite, but his grandchildren certainly aren't any slouches, either. They've all got enough meat on their bones to give you reason to care about their fates, which is of the utmost importance in a story like this, and in horror in general. Shea knows perfectly well that the monster is merely a lure to hook readers in, but it's the characters that truly count at the end of the day.
Of course, you also need some guts and gore because it is, ultimately, horror. And jeez, does Shea deliver in that regard, too. The body count here is ridiculously high, and the amount of blood spilled in the Big Finale could be counted by the bucket-load. There's a wonderfully delicious bit of spectacle throughout the whole book. Clearly, the author had tremendous fun writing this one, as well as a big appreciation for the Jersey Devil mythos, and that enthusiasm shows throughout.
Plain and simple - this book is just pure bloody fun. High-octane action, guts galore (in terms of both gutsy characters and actual guts dropping onto the forest floor), and enjoyable characters make this a stand-out creature feature. If you're looking for some violent, fast-paced action horror, this, fellow readers, will do you nicely.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]