The Nightmare Man by JH Markert

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

This is a hard one to review. On one hand, I liked it because it gave me a lot of the older Stephen King vibes. I love older Stephen King. On the other hand, this book has a lot of issues that just piled up the longer I read it which ultimately took away a lot of the pleasure from reading and let the frustration set in.

From what I see, this is the author’s first book and, unfortunately, it shows. There is a solid story somewhere in there. In fact, there are several solid stories that could have been several solid books. Unfortunately, the execution is a bit lacking.

As I mentioned, there is just too much stuff happening in this book. There are several serial killers and psychopaths running loose in this small town. There are nightmares galore. There is an old detective with his own secrets. There is a writer with his dark past and strange family history. There is a psychiatric asylum… It’s like the author tried to throw everything on the wall and try to make it all stick. 

Well, it makes for a very dense story where not a single thread is given enough attention to matter. And because so much information is stuffed into the book, things happen very slowly, and we also don’t have enough time to go deeper into each incident. As a result, I didn’t particularly care for any of the mares running around the little town and killing off people, or about the writer’s story, or really about the detective’s either. There is just too much happening to concentrate on.

My other issue is that there is not action in this book. Which, I realize, contradicts my previous statement that there is too much happening. Yes, things are happening, people are being murdered in horrible ways… but it’s all done “offscreen” so to say. Our protagonists either arrive at the crime scene after the fact or discuss it after the fact, or have flashbacks to some other plot point after the fact, etc. Do you see the trend there? Everything is given us through dialogues and flashbacks. In fact, I think the only time the characters are actually in the thick of the action is at the very end of the book when the mares come home. But even then, a lot of the action is told by the protagonists who arrive after the fact to discover the bloody aftermath and cooling bodies. 

Well, this might work for a little bit, but when the whole book is written in this manner, it just gets boring. There is not tension, no suspense, and there is no feeling that the characters are in clear and present danger… which is the whole point of a horror book, no? This story would have been a lot more impactful, if the author had cut out at least half of the flashbacks and put us into the action instead of having the characters retell that action to each other over a glass of bourbon afterwards. 

And finally, I’m not sure what the police procedures are in small towns, but I am positive that revealing the name of a suspect in a conversation with another suspect is illegal. Especially if that suspect is married to a reporter. Same with discussing the details of an ongoing investigation with a civilian which might or might not be tied to the killings. Yet the detectives in this story do it several times. And not only the detectives. In fact, it seems like doctor patient confidentiality, or the confidentiality of a confession are non-existent in this book as soon as it’s convenient to the plot to break them.

And honestly, the least said about that ending, the better. It feels like the author tried to tie all the loose ends from all the different stories they started in this book, and didn’t quite manage that. It was dense, jumbled, and quite unsatisfactory.

I would however say that the author has potential. I finished this book in three days, despite all my misgivings, after all. If they continue writing and honing their craft, I’m sure future books will be much better.

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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