By Michaelbrent Collings
An eerie silence has enveloped the Hughes family home. Grieving on the one year anniversary of their eldest boy’s tragic death, father, mother, sister and brother struggle to cope. While his absence affects each in their own way, they drift apart emotionally and physically growing further estranged with each passing day.
Retiring that evening, each with a heavy heart, they next awaken to a terror beyond their worst nightmares. Imprisoned within their own home, the Hughes family struggle to make sense of what has transpired around them. Each of them holds a very dark secret that will forever change the course of how they coexist. Will each be able to confess their dreadful mistakes and repent their misgivings, or will they ultimately succumb to a household of Strangers?
“People always talked about madness like an abyss that you fell into, but he realized that was wrong: madness was something fell onto you,” Jerry Hughes.
Strangers is the fourth novel I’ve had the honour of reading and reviewing for horrornews.net. Quite possibly this edition is author Collings’ most polished and horrific tale to date. When every day, ordinary routine manifests into greater sociological detachment from one another and crumbles into anarchy the only seemingly inevitable is the Hughes family’s demise. The terror presented lurks not from our subconscious, supernatural or abstract, far-fetched themes. Fear in Strangers case is conceived from very real, tangible circumstances in characters’ lives that could very well be one and the same as our own.
The author’s depiction of an estranged familial unit is so realistic the reader cannot resist assessing their own personal follies. Have we reached out emotionally to our loved ones? Are we too absorbed in our own private bubbles? What could I have done differently? What if? These are prominent questions that will surface and plague the reader long into this literary journey, thrusting its impact long after its conclusion. Regret is a heavy burden in any scenario and Colling’s hones in on this emotion with expert precision exploiting its ramifications unto a vast audience.
Once the story gets rolling past the obligatory introductions the plot ignites the most tragic of vulnerable situations, a young boy’s death in the family. Father Jerry, Mother Ann and siblings Sheri and Drew grieve in their own private hell. The stages of bereavement have not be actualized and in fact have been someone declined. Each holds their private state of resentment and rears its ugly head along the ride of rising tension. As a reader we cannot help but be instantly engaged in the story, ravenously exploring deeper to find out more about the characters we empathise for.
Psychological layers are peeled back one by one making this arguably Collings’ most ambitious tale to date. Plenty of plot twists and turns present themselves along the way, cementing the reader further into the tale with little interruption. I’m hard pressed to find any suspense fanatic that wouldn’t digest this read within a sitting or two, something even Alfred Hitchcock himself would be proud of.
The antagonist or villain if you prefer is original in design. From the onset his presence is elusive and increasingly ominous as the tension rises. Subconsciously the reader fills in their own blanks and the terror is exemplified with what is unseen as opposed with brash over indulgent scare tactics.
The Hughes family from Jerry, Ann, Sheri and Drew are realistic in each their individual and collective flaws. Each harbors their own secret unhampered with shame yet somehow it correlates with the emotional distance with their loved ones. It’s a repetitive pattern we adapt in human behaviour to spare our loved ones of the dirty little deeds or misadventures; thinking it is emotionally healthier in the long run. Failure to communicate is the ultimate downfall to any relationship. The author has a firm grasp on this sociological weakness and displays it well, much to the delight of his reading demographic.
The opening sequence of this story is so impactful, ratcheting the readers’ attention, tightening and refusing to relent with gory grandiose. Personally I would have been intrigued to find out more about the investigating officers’ fate later in the story. Their presence seemed crucial in the emergence of terror and was somewhat disappointed they hadn’t reappeared later in the plot.
In the final pages the conclusion may come across as a little drawn out or borderline what they refer to in the ratings realm as ‘jumping the shark syndrome.’ Yet if the reader can get past a far-fetched climax (in a horror tale, gasp!) then the enjoyment of this novel will not be tarnished. Collings is far from the first author to indulge in a far-fetched plot design in our genre nor will he be remotely close to the last.
The afterword that was composed and presented was endearing indicating that Strangers was a tale once abandoned in this author’s journey and exhumed years later. His honesty is refreshing and inspiring to readers and aspiring writers alike.
Long after the final curtain closes on critiquing horror novels and films I can honestly state that I will adapt the consumer role for future Michaelbrent Collings novels. If I’m willing to pay hard earned dollars for a pending release you can rest assured there is a bona fide thrill ride just waiting to ignite.