Book Review by Zakary McGaha
In Zebra Summer, Zakary McGaha (author of Locker Arms and Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast), chronicles a very specific portion of his summer reading-schedule: horror novels published by Zebra Books.
Whew…I took a little break from reading Zebra books. I’m glad I did. I read some awesome things like Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, The Pumpkin House by Chad Brown and The Manse by Lisa Cantrell, amongst others. Life is too short to just read bad books because you’re writing a series on a blog site for fun.
However, I ended up feeling like the time was right to get back to my old commitment, and a friend of mine had let me borrow some books, several of which were Zebra novels, so I decided to go for it.
Boy, did I regret it.
Stephen George is, by all accounts (even mine), a fine writer. His Zebra novel, Bloody Valentine, has so many good ingredients, but, for whatever reason, **cough cough Zebra overlords cough cough** wound up less than readable.
The novel’s main flaw is that it presents itself as a sort of bad ass whodunnit/slasher with supernatural undertones, but it’s apparent from very early on EXACTLY who did it! Now, to be fair, not every little detail about the supernatural slasher is known, but yes, the identity of the killer is clear.
To explain this flaw, I’ll need to explain the plot. Basically, a group of college kids participated in an experiment spearheaded by the FBI back when the profiling of serial killers was in its infancy. The experiment involved creating a false murderer from scratch in order to explain his motives and, thus, understand real serial killers. Soon afterward, real people start dying, and all of the deaths fit the fictional killer’s modus operandi.
It is then revealed that your first guess is actually the right one: yes, the college kids somehow willed this killer into being, and now he’s on the loose. Granted, there is a slight twist in this near the end, but this basic premise is the right one. In fact, early on the killer is shown in “ghost” form or something, so there’s no guessing…
…which leads one to wonder why every character is trying to figure out who the killer is throughout the whole novel. Like, one minute everyone’s accepting the reality of the situation, then there’s denial, then there’s a supernatural occurrence, then “Oh, no! We were just imagining things,” then there’s another supernatural occurrence, and so on and so forth.
Throughout the bulk of the novel, the characters are running around in circles while in the dark whilst ignoring the glowing answer icon that’s screaming, “I’m here! I’m here!” Even when they finish second guessing themselves and accept that they’re dealing with something science can’t explain, which happens pretty late in the novel, they don’t do anything different. They run around in the same circles.
This novel went from awesome to flat-out boring QUICK. And the boringness stretched itself out til the very end.
The writing was awesome, and the characters themselves were interesting and well-drawn, but the boredom factor got in the way of everything. Literally everything the characters did was pointless, repetitive, and just flat-out stupid. At the very end, the main character actually does something useful, which leads one to wonder: why did Stephen George have all the characters do nothing important throughout the majority of the novel?
Let’s elaborate on this aspect: think of Bloody Valentine’s plot as a long hallway. At the very end of said hallway is the right door, which represents the obvious outcome (meaning that it has a bulls eye painted on it), but before said door there are countless other doors that lead to nowhere (and that much is posted on each door like an eviction notice). Well, instead of going to the door with the bulls eye, Stephen George opens every door along the way and fucks around for…oh, about the length of a 413-page novel, before finally getting to the right one.
I normally don’t like being harsh on books, and I’m sure Stephen George is a fine writer; his atmosphere, character development and all-around writing style are actually ABOVE typical Zebra standards, in my opinion…but the pointless fluff that filled the bulk of this 413-page novel simply made it way less than enjoyable.
What the hell my ratings mean: 1 star = I didn’t enjoy it, and I’m fairly certain I can objectively say the book sucks ass. 2 stars = I didn’t enjoy it at all, but I can’t , in good conscience, say it was an objectively bad book (in other words, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone else loved it). 3 stars = a book I enjoyed quite a bit, but it had several flaws that made me unable to honestly say it was a great book. 4 stars = a great book without any serious flaws. 5 stars = made my soul feel tingly and changed my worldview (usually reserved for classics like Siddhartha and The Magic Mountain).