I experienced “High Lonesome Sound” as a very uneven novel which had some very strong moments in it but didn’t really deliver on its promise.
I liked the originality of both the nature of the underlying evil that rises to the surface in the book and the forces used to confront it.
So many horror novels start well, building tension and creating context and characters that I care about and then fizzle out when the big bad finally sees the light of day. The confrontation scenes in “High Lonesome Sound” are the part of the book that I enjoyed most. They deliver in terms of horrific action and a satisfying pulling together of the various plot threads and character traits.
Unfortunately, the first sixty-plus per cent of the book leading up to the confrontation was light both on tension and on foreboding. I knew something bad was coming but I felt no dread of it.
At the start of the book, I felt that the mountain people were being presented as a set of Reality TV stereotypes of weird and wacky Appalachia. This effect wore off a little as the main characters were given something to do and their backstory was explained but it took a while and I never quite got past the view that the life the mountain lived was being looked down on. The Church is central to both the community and the story but I was left with no sense that the faith of these people was understood or valued.
There are some interesting themes around the gender roles and the price paid for men repressing their emotions or expressing them with their fists but it felt a little too “Deliverance” most of the time.
My main problem with the book was how much I despised the character of Peter, the author looking for a story. This would have been a fine emotion for me to have if Peter had been set up as one of the bad guys. Instead, he was a weak and ineffectual would-like-to-be-a-hero-but-I’m-not-sure-I’m-up-to-it kind of guy. The start of the book focuses on Peter whining about his life, his failed career, his failed marriage and how unfair it all is. By the time he got the town in the mountains, I was hoping he would suffer an early and painful death so we could all move on. Instead, I kept getting thrown out of the story by Peter’s reflections on the writing process and his view on what would happen next if this were a novel he was writing.
I see that Peter was a necessary part of the plot. I just don’t see why he had to be so meh.
This was an entertaining, if sometimes frustrating, way to spend a few hours but this isn’t a book that’s going to stay with me.