A narrator of more than 200 audiobooks and author of the middle-grade book, The Mad Scientists of New Jersey, Chris Sorensen make his horror novel debut with Book 1 in The Messy Man series, The Nightmare Room.
After moving back to his hometown to care for his sick father, Pete and Hannah Larson move into an old farmhouse with more than its fair share of problems. The stairs going to the second floor are slightly crooked, the third step to the basement poses a hazard, and rowdy teenagers have been using the abandoned homestead for raucous parties. It's also inhabited by an unwelcome occupant Pete comes to know as The Grey Man, a malevolent spirit with a sinister past.
Sorensen draws from his own experiences as a narrator with Pete, who assembles his recording booth in his new home's basement and begins to notice strange artifacts in the audiobook files he's working on. Having a horror author as the everyman at the center of a horror novel is a common, well-worn trope, and I have to admit that having a children's audiobook narrator as our main protagonist is a nice change of pace, and a timely one at that given the rise in popularity of services like Audible. Sorensen gives us a nice insider's glimpse at narration without getting bogged down in the details.
The heart of The Nightmare Room, though, is one of tragedy and loss. On top of dealing with a sick father and a mother stricken with dementia, the Larson's are struggling to cope with the recent loss of their son. Sorensen weaves various strands of familial grief throughout his narrative, tackling each of its different permutations with an honesty that is sometimes raw but never saccharine.
The human component of The Nightmare Room is strong, and it's because of this that the elements of horror work so well. Sorensen fleshes out the Larson's so well, Pete in particular, that we can't help but feel for his plight when the surprises start coming and the farmhouse begins to awaken. Simply put, The Nightmare Room is a surprisingly strong haunted house story and a heck of a horror debut for Sorensen. This is an author with some serious chops, and he paints a number of vivid scare scenes. It's safe to say I won't be able to look at a child's drawings quite the same way after some of this book's segments.
The Nightmare Room was a gripping read, one that kept me glued to my Kindle, Kindle app, and Kindle Cloud Reader the whole way through. I finished this book in two days, a genuine rarity for me these days given all the constraints on my time and limited hours I have for reading anymore. Once I sank into this book, though, I made the time and got sucked into it rather deeply. It's one of my favorite reads of the year thus far, and Sorensen is officially on my list of authors to watch out for. I'm not sure how much elasticity the central conceit of The Messy Man series ultimately has or how many books are planned, but I'm definitely game to find out.
Filled with a number of well-drawn characters and several terrific fright scenes, The Nightmare Room impressed the hell out of me. This is a lock all the doors, keep all the lights on creepfest that will keep you reading late into the night.
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