The Wicked by James Newman is a new take on an old-fashioned tale regarding small town histories and haunts. Written in a style reminiscent of 80s horror, Newman introduces his readers to the Little family, Kate, David, and their daughter, Becca, and their move from New York City to Morganville, North Carolina in an attempt to leave behind tragedy, and start anew. But what seems like a quaint and quiet cul-de-sac is actually buzzing with negative energy as the ashes from the Heller House fire still roam the streets and memories of the residents. Sixty died that night. Thirty-seven of them were children, and it wasn’t an accident.
New to town, the Little’s know no one short of Kate’s brother Joel and his partner Michael, but David forms a friendship early on with their neighbor, ex-marine George Heatherly, who ends up being both his backbone and his partner later on in the story. It doesn’t take the Little’s long before they realize something’s off about Morganville. With the death count ever rising, and the occupants turning to strange and violent behavior, it becomes obvious that something is very wrong, but like most of us, the thought of an ancient evil being resurrected is far from our minds.
What I personally enjoyed about Newman’s style is the realistic tension that he built up on the page. Newman is a skilled crafter of micro tension and the Little family responds to events as real people, not as characters. Their pain and terror became mine, and because of that, I found myself turning the page with an immediacy that I haven’t found in a novel in quite some time. The same goes for his ability to create paranoia. While I knew I was reading horror and therefore somewhat bound by the conventions of the genre, there were definite moments when I wondered if Moloch was something that that the people made up in a fit of mass hysteria in order to deal with the tragedies that had befallen them. Their sleep deprivation, use of alcohol, and depression could easily have formed together to set blame on an imaginary entity, but the moment that long, white, filth ridden beard started to crawl out of the pages, I knew I wasn’t dealing with anything psychological. I was dealing with nothing short of the damned.
But what was most horrifying about Newman’s tale was how he spun Moloch into becoming much more than a demon, a mere devourer of souls. Moloch became a false prophet for the weak and impressionable, the tired and the sick. He befriended ten-year-old Billy Dawson as he mourned over the ashes of his deceased friends, became a long lost lover to Michael as he cried in his tub, and reached out to Kate in moments when her faith wasn’t strong enough to carry her through. Evil will always try to corrupt good, whether you’re a priest of good stranding, the town hero, or a family man with access to a gun.
Overall, I’d give The Wicked four out of five skulls, and not just because Moloch got inside my head while I was reading it. It was a compelling story that transcended the decade’s clichés, and it will give horror lovers the healthy dose of sex, blood, and terror they crave while getting delightfully lost inside Newman’s dark imagination. From the stinging corpses of burned children, to a Mother’s breakdown, I can promise you that hell will leak through the pages, and that you’ll never look at Santa Claus the same way again. A beard will never be just a beard, and when you smell something burning, I deeply urge you to hold on to your soul because you never know when evil is lurking around, desperately searching for its next victim.
If you're interested in learning more about the author, the story, or the house that published them, click here to visit Shock Totem's website. And a big thank you to them for recommending me a truly disturbing read! Anyone who knows me will tell you that in order to get my heart, you have to creep me out first.
Pleasant nightmares folks!