My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After a string of successful outings involving wildly fun cryptid horror, Hunter Shea turns toward darker subjects in his latest, We Are Always Watching.
Life for the Ridley family isn't easy. Matt, the patriarch of the family, was involved in a severe car accident that left him with brain damage and a crippling case of vertigo. Debi, his wife, has been forced to change careers, just as their money has run out, forcing them to replant their familial roots to the home Matt grew up in...and escaped. Their son West hates leaving behind his New York stomping grounds, but is thrilled to live in what his grandfather promises is a haunted house. Fourteen-year-old West is a horror aficionado, and once relocated to a Pennsylvania farm out in the sticks of Buttermilk Creek he spends most of his time in the cornfields, reading Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, and a slew of other modern-day fright masters.
Not all is peachy, though. Strange notes begin appearing randomly around the house - including one on the ceiling above West's bedroom, which gravely intones WE ARE ALWAYS WATCHING.
Shea ditches the high-octane action thrills of his recent books for a slow-burn potboiler, one whose horror staples shift and mutate over the course of the novel. There's plenty of secret history buried in Buttermilk Creek, and damn is it some good stuff. Shea ratchets up the suspense and intrigue roller-coaster style, and once the story - and the Ridley family - have hit their breaking point, it's all out captivating crazy for the last third or so.
I've been a fan of Shea's books for a short while now, but this one is easily his best in my estimation. He digs a bit deeper here to generate some old-school chills, crafting a group of characters we get to know intimately. I became so attached to West that I wish I could have spent longer with him in the aftermath of the story's climax, which hurtles along at such breakneck pace that the book's end came too soon for me. I would not have minded another chapter or two, but this is by no means a deal breaker. Hunter Shea is at the top of his game with this one, and over the last couple years he's become an author that I'll certainly always be watching.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher, Sinister Grin Press, via Hook of a Book Media and Publicity.]
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