Monday, October 24, 2011

The Sleepwalkers by J Gabriel Gates

Published October 4, 2011.

Privileged and popular Caleb Mason is celebrating his high school graduation when he receives a mysterious, disturbing letter from his long-lost childhood playmate, Christine. Caleb and his jokester friend Bean decide to travel to his tiny hometown of Hudsonville, Florida, to find her. Upon arrival, they discover the town has taken a horrifying turn for the worse. Caleb's childhood home is abandoned and his father has disappeared. Children are going missing. The old insane asylum has reopened, and Christine is locked inside. Her mother, a witch, is consumed with madness, and Christine's long-dead twin sister whispers clues to Caleb through the static of an a.m. radio. The terrifying prophesies of the spirits are coming to pass. Sixteen clocks are ticking; sixty-six murdered souls will bring about the end of the world. As Caleb peels back layer after layer of mystery, he uncovers a truth more horrible than anything he had imagined, a truth that could only be uttered by the lips of the dead. (

The book as a whole reads as scattered and nominally disjointed as that blurb read, to me at least. I always get a little excited at the prospect of what sounds like a good horror novel. On first look, without reading the novel, I wouldn't think that blurb too bad. But in hindsight, everything runs into everything else, just like it does in the novel, and it doesn't make for too great of a read.

I won't say I had high hopes for it. I just get excited to read horror. But I'm well aware of the pitfalls of the genre, and how massive turds could be laid in the dark corners of it. While THE SLEEPWALKERS isn't a massive turd, it's pretty much a turd nonetheless.

It was slow-going to start, taking it's sweet time getting into the meat of the plot. I didn't really mind like I normally would. So I waited. Some needless characters were introduced that didn't serve a purpose beyond the first couple of chapters. But when Bean and Caleb went on the road, that's really when the story started and things started getting weird.

Bean I really could have lived without. I just found him horrendously grating in his incessant need to be obnoxious. I just felt the character was pushing for something that didn't feel natural at all. He just always grated on me. Caleb ended up being your classic horror hero, or anti-hero, as it were. I didn't really feel one way or another for him, which isn't really a good thing. He kept getting these unexplainable needs to stay when all signs pointed to get the hell out of there and that bugged me. Classic in horror, but it wasn't played very well here and he ended up with a lot of blood on his hands. Which he dwelled upon for about half a chapter and then it wasn't really mentioned again. So that didn't sit well with me either.

I was fading from the plot and then quickly hooked back in once the sleepwalkers were introduced. I thought those things were pretty creepy and the idea of people so controlled, and possessed, like that while asleep is pretty terrifying. But it all jumped the shark once clown make-up and end-of-days prophecies starting showing their ugly faces. Once a horror novel (or movie) turns towards the downright silly, you can't really recover from that. And I don't mean making light of the moment, silly, but scoffing at the pages silly. Once I hit that point the book was lost to me. It could have had redeeming moments but it really didn't. It ended how I figured it would end, the telltale showdown came to fruition and I turned off my eReader and moved on to the next book.

Ultimately I felt like THE SLEEPWALKERS was trying too hard to be horror. Instead of letting the creepiness of the asylum be it's down character and pull the reader in (despite how cliche that is, it can still work when done right), the door exploded in an orgy of horror tropes, as if the author were trying to cram as many of them into the pages as possible. Like Scary Movie but without the humor. I felt inundated by horrorness instead of horrified by it. I wanted to be afraid but wasn't. I wanted to be creeped out and for a couple of instances I was but they were few and far between. I didn't feel like the characters were real. They recovered from their ordeal far too easily for my liking and while it didn't really end on an up-note, it just felt too neatly tied into a pretty bow for me. I wasn't scared at the end of the book. I was just done with it.

THE SLEEPWALKERS was a decent try at horror but I'd have to say less is more. Letting the sleepwalkers be sleepwalkers would have been more than enough. But throwing in the Joker and overcooked prophecies just doesn't leave enough room for anything else.

Ban Factor: High - As I've said, horror gets a high by default simply because it's horror. It deals with creepy, spooky things without tidy endings and banners don't like that. This one isn't any different although some of the lesser characters throw around Christianity a bit. But I don't think it's enough to balance it all out.
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