I really liked the writing I found in Sixty Five Stirrup Iron Road, the nine author collaboration put out by Sinister Grin Press at the end of last year. So much so, in fact, that I decided to check out some of the contributing authors’ other books, hoping for more of the same. My first stop was Shane McKenzie’s Muerte Con Carne, and it was everything I hoped it would be and much, much more. So I decided to continue on through, selecting Down, by Nate Southard (Just Like Hell, Lights Out, The Slab City Event, and others), as my next book. I made a good choice.
Down starts fast and doesn’t let up. A band called The Frequency Brothers, along with their manager, a couple roadies, and a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine, are flying from Austin, Texas to New York to shoot a music video. Somewhere between A and B, an engine explodes, and despite the pilot’s best efforts, the plane goes down. And so, almost immediately, some of the characters we were just starting to get to know are dead, others are injured pretty badly, and the whole group finds themselves lost in a forest, no idea where they are, not even knowing what state they might be in. It’s along the lines of the first couple episodes of Lost, actually, even down to the junkie in a famous band (granted, all of these people are in or with a famous band). However, this is where the comparison ends; whereas Lost goes into inner turmoil, plotting an escape route, and “the others,” Down goes straight into scary mode, feeling way more like Predator than Gilligan’s Island.
One cool thing about the book is that it takes you into unexpected directions. We have a crashed plane and a bunch of survivors. We automatically start asking ourselves as we read on, “where will this go next?” and make a short list of options in our heads. One of those options probably does not include a pit full of bones and rotting flesh (unless you are Nate Southard, I guess). We quickly realize that we aren’t only dealing with the sense of doom that goes along with an airplane crash, but now we know there is something out there, something frightening, something much scarier than any wild animal they might come in contact with. And it is after them.
What could be worse than being stranded in the dark with indescribable monsters of some kind coming after you? Not a whole lot, unless you take into account those strange symbols carved into the surrounding trees, the ones that seem to have a power of their own. And then Down goes from creepy mode to downright horrifying when we see what is really going on. There are tense scenes of despair, brutal scenes of violence, and a whole lot of edge of your seat horror as you remember those injured passengers left to hide while the able bodied ones keep guard and go out looking for help.
Southard’s writing is sparse and guided, keeping us moving constantly forward while still giving us a glimpse into the minds and emotions of his characters (of which there are a lot…well, at the beginning there are). Down is not a book that contains “slow parts,” it’s all go, no slow. Something that I especially took note of in my reading: the story isn’t riddled with over the top gore (not that there is anything at all wrong with a story that is). Rather, it is a well-written, detailed horror story, one that you could definitely see Hollywood turning into a movie (and then subsequently ruining with a *spoiler alert* happy ending). There are a lot of “oh no, not them!” moments as you move forward to the conclusion, a conclusion that kind of haunts you for a couple days after.
Being my first experience reading a Nate Southard book, I will definitely say that I am a new fan, and I’m eager to read some more of his work. He’s a good writer who’s able to take ideas that may seem initially familiar and then throw his own twist on them, giving them a fresh new coat of paint and making them smell pretty again. Sinister Grin Press continues to make me smile, whether it’s with their newest releases or their back catalog. Put the two together, and you’ve got an author/publisher combo that can’t go wrong.