Adam Cesare is the horror author that fans of horror movies should love. He’s already got a Deodato-style cannibal novel (Tribesmen), an homage to 1980’s horror (Video Night), and even a Creepshow-esque collaboration with Matt Serafini (author of the werewolf novel Feral) called All-Night Terror. He has also written for Fangoria, a little horror magazine that may be familiar to some folks. And in January, 2014, Cesare will be unleashing upon the world of fiction what may not only be his best work, but one of the best horror novels in quite some time, The Summer Job.
The Summer Job starts with a vicious stab and doesn’t let up. After a bloody and haunting prologue grabs our attention, we meet Claire. Former punk rocker and partier, current waitress on a life journey that seems to be headed nowhere. She’s dating Mickey, the cook at the restaurant she works at, although she honestly can’t tell you why. She has a degree that is doing less for her than her loser boyfriend. She has no direction in life. So when her workplace burns to the ground, it’s a fairly simple decision to move two hours outside of Boston to a small town called Mission, Massachusetts, and become a live-in hotel liaison at The Brant Hotel. If nothing else, it will give her some much-needed time away to think about what she wants to do with her life.
Claire (whose ghost-of-punk-rock-past alter-ego/nickname is Silverfish, a persona she has been distancing herself from for some time now) and her roommate Allison drive out for a look at the prospective new job. Mission is a small town, very out of the way and probably only seen by people who intend on seeing it, with The Brant Hotel being one of its main attractions. It’s here that we meet Victoria Brant, the owner of the hotel. We also meet Daisy, a hotel worker and their “tour guide” for the evening. And when the girls sneak out for a smoke, we meet Tobin, a dumpster-diving guy who catches Claire’s eye and tells them about parties that go on in the woods. Maybe this place won’t be so bad after all… Then Allison disappears. Supposedly she left first thing in the morning, but something doesn’t seem quite right.
Very quickly we learn that there are two groups of people in Mission. There are those who seem proper and good, maintaining their businesses, keeping up the hotel, smiling and greeting the tourists who stop on their vacations. And then there are the people in the forest, the cult-like group who gravitate toward booze and sex, the ones who seem to also gravitate toward a Manson-like leader named Davey. Turns out, Tobin is part of the latter group. But this isn’t foreign territory for Claire, or should I say Silverfish, and so this is not just another Romeo and Juliet story. In fact, maybe none of this is quite as it seems.
The Summer Job is a book that keeps you asking, often out loud to yourself, what is going to happen next? I don’t use the word genius lightly, but the way Cesare sets up the story treads devilishly close. With each chapter, some new detail comes out to completely derail any previous theories as you try and guess how it will all end. Nothing is as it seems, no one is who they seem to be, and stuck in the middle is poor Claire, a girl who just wanted to get away from her problems, not add to them.
There is so much good about this book, I almost don’t know where to start. Congrats to Adam Cesare for not only writing a well-rounded, in-depth female character in a world of one-dimensional clichés, but also for writing a “punk” character without sounding like he’s just watched a bunch of MTV and shopped at Hot Topic for research. But it’s not only Claire, it’s everyone. As you read, you can’t help but picture exactly what the residents of Mission look like, almost as if you’ve met them yourself. Described in equal detail is the gore, again so real it’s like you’re there (but thankful that you’re not).
You could compare The Summer Job to Eden Lake, The House of the Devil, Wicker Man, probably a handful of others, but not one of these gives you the complete picture. It’s not like anything I’ve read before, it’s just that good. There’s intensity from the first page all the way to the end, from the ominous prologue to the shocking finish. There are so many other characters of note, from Roy, the hotel chef, to Father Hayden, a blind priest who lives at the hotel free of charge, to Christine and Jane and their dog Bert, all of whom seem like old friends as we read on. If you’ve read Cesare before, you know exactly what to expect and have probably already put The Summer Job on your online wish list. If you haven’t, this is the perfect opportunity, and a great introduction to his work.