There is a spoiler in this review, but one that is revealed early in the novel.
Heinous: hateful, odious; abominable; totally reprehensible … evil
Pretty good name for a horror novel, isn’t it? HEINOUS stays true to the above definition and follows the exploits of Gavin Wagner, a high school kid who finds something odd in the woods … something, well, heinous. Before the story begins we get a lot of praise from other authors warning us that Moon’s book is “disturbing,” is a “sunken chest punch in the gut,” and that Moon “weaves a tale of raw brutality and sheer terror that will stay with you long after you finish reading [it].” Even Moon’s editor, Stephanie Kincaid has a Note From the Editor in the beginning warning us that
“As you travel through the torturous mind of Moon, you’ll bear witness to strange and terrible things. He’ll speak what you thought was unspeakable, imagine what you thought was inconceivable. And once your poor psyche has been bludgeoned until it resembles roadkill … well, then you’ll know he’s good and warmed up and ready for the real pain to begin.”
These are all some big, bold claims, and I must admit that after reading all this praise about how hardcore Moon is, I kinda feel like I was getting a hard sell. You all know from various reviews I’ve written (THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE sticks out) that I’m very wary about over-hyped films and novels. Instead of letting the project speak for itself, it feels like we’re getting a carnival barker shouting us to “Step right up, step right up and read the most hardcore, disturbing, mind blowing author of all time …” But all this aside, two questions are staring us square in the face: Is HEINOUS a good novel, and does it live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
HEINOUS, published by The Library of Bizarro Horror, does a lot of things right. The main characters are kept minimal, the writing is fast paced and at times very beautifully written, and Moon’s blood and guts descriptions are very detailed. Gavin and best buddy Joshua are exploring in the woods when they find the entrance to a hidden cave. Gavin is drawn to it while Joshua begs Gavin to just turn and walk away. Gavin should of listened. Something ancient and very evil finds and merges with Gavin, forever changing the course of his life. This ancient evil tells Gavin that its been around since time began and it lives to kill, rape, and torture and it feasts on the misery, pain, and suffering of its victims. The creature constantly flashes images of its past horrible deeds in Gavin’s mind and essentially breaks him down in order to do his bidding. But what I like here is that Gavin is no choirboy. Gavin has a side that not even Joshua has seen. Is there really an ancient demon inside Gavin, controlling him and making him commit such horrendous acts, or has Gavin lost his mind and created an alter ego in order to carry out and perform such horrible acts?
Unfortunately what could’ve been an interesting approach to this story is kind of ignored in favor of giving us a straight-forward “dude-possessed-by-a-demon” story. Luckily it’s a great story, but I think it could’ve been so much more. The character of Gavin is extremely well-written and the majority of HEINOUS follows him as he battles his conscience and the urge within himself to just give into the creature. Gavin is a really rich and detailed character … one not often found in horror novels. He has a dark side within himself that he at times seems to embrace, but there’s also a “good kid” side to him that struggles against the demon inside. The scene where Heinous, the name Gavin gives to the demon inside himself, finally breaks Gavin and becomes a willing participant in Heinous’ exploits is an excellent and really compelling scene.
But, I’m sure you’re wondering, how hardcore is HEINOUS? Well I can tell you that there is much carnage, death, destruction, and human suffering in Moon’s 200 pages, but most of it occurs in the past tense. The majority of the “hardcore” scenes are Heinous’ memories that he flashes inside Gavin’s mind to drive him crazy and break him down. Sure the scenes are well written and very explicit, but having most of the violent scenes done in the past (in some cases the very distant past) kind of distances the reader from what’s happening in the present. It kinda feels like we’re reading Heinous’ memoirs.
Moon gives us some great build-ups that end up fizzling out. Almost as soon as Heinous takes over Gavin’s body we know (as does Gavin) that things aren’t gonna end well for his parents. Moon does a terrific job building up the tension every time Gavin is around his parents … is Heinous gonna finally snap and give into its bloodlust on the parents? Moon creates a pressure-cooker of tension and then never really follows through; you’ll feel a little let down. After the above-mentioned scene where Heinous finally breaks Gavin and he becomes a willing participant to Heinous’ desires, Gavin then goes on a killing spree over a long period of time (the chapter this part’s in is titled “Decades that Bleed”). Unfortunately we really aren’t witnesses to any of this carnage. Odd choice in my opinion.
But don’t get me wrong; HEINOUS is a solid novel that will more than satisfy the lover of hardcore horror. The “hardcore” scenes are extremely well written and Moon paints some truly disturbing images that jump off the page. Just wait until you read about the first person Heinous has Gavin kill. The scene grabs you by the throat and I found myself holding my breath until the scene was over. But having the majority of the carnage happen in the past and Moon’s decision to alternate between chapters of Gavin’s dreams and his daily life didn’t help with the flow of the novel. The “dream chapters,” as beautifully written as they are, removed me from the action of the main narrative. And for my money I would’ve loved to have seen Heinous end up being nothing more than Gavin’s fractured psyche. That could’ve been a great twist that would’ve elevated this novel a hundred-fold.
Forget about the hype in the beginning of this novel. Reality can never live up to the hype, and that’s a shame because Moon doesn’t need to go on a campaign of hard-selling HEINOUS. HEINOUS is a solid, well-written novel with a fantastic character in Gavin and some really disturbing and chilling scenes. Check this one out; just ignore all the “praise” in the beginning of the book.
Author: Jonathan Moon
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars (would’ve been a 4 but the “dream chapters” removed me from the flow of the novel)
Gore: 8 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer