Review: The Pines by Robert Dunbar
Monday, February 16, 2009
by Robert Dunbar
Leisure Books, 2008
Paperback, 333 pages
ISBN: 0843961651 (Amazon) ; 9780843961652
This is a chilling tale set in the rural Pine Barrens of New Jersey, a region as known for its inbred, throwback inhabitants or 'Pineys', as for its swampy, humid and dense woodland. The story centers around a team of ambulance drivers, a couple of small-town sheriffs, and a series of deaths that occur, leaving behind bodies so mangled it looks as though wild animals have been in a frenzy. And yet, there are clues that these are no animals anyone's ever come across before. Thus start the rumors, the stories, of a devil, a Jersey devil, hunting its prey, tearing it limb from limb and doing unspeakably horrible things to the corpses....
The tension builds, and the bodies mount, as Athena, (one of the newer ambulance drivers) becomes deeply embroiled in the investigation. Is her involvement the result of her colleagues' unquestioning attitudes towards the deaths? Or is it because she's the single parent of a son who seems to be autistic, but who has an amazing ability to know the thoughts and intentions of the unknown assailant? Is this really a freak talent or something more sinister?
Using rich language and imagery, Robert Dunbar has written a timeless tale of horror and suspense. All the elements of the traditional horror novel are explored, with just enough twists and turns to engage the reader and lend the story some uniqueness. There are a few stray subplots that could have been edited out, and it seems they possibly were in previous editions. However, this has been promoted on the back cover as the 'uncut version, in paperback for the first time!'
While these subplots don't particularly enhance or detract from the novel, per se, they just don't take the story anywhere new. I have read quite a few horror novels in my time, and when I was younger I'd make the rounds of the more popular authors. In the end, what kept me from continuing with them was their predictability--the nubile thing in the woods gets attacked (usually in an overtly sexual way), there's a mysterious connection between the 'thing' and a human (usually involving telekinesis)--and this novel is, unfortunately, as predictable. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad novel, but for someone like me, who has read a lot of horror, it did take a little something out of the reading. I suppose I was hoping for a bit more uniqueness or originality, and I didn't find it here.
Still, this is a pretty good book for any horror fan to curl up with on a dark and snowy night...as long as they're far from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.
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