I spent a lot of time in airports and airplanes last week which means I got to catch up on some reading. I’m not one of those guys that can whip out the laptop in a public place and crank out some pages (and don’t get me started on the people who feel it necessary to include me in on their cell phone conversation by talking like they’re in a crowded stadium. Use your inside voice, people). I always cross my fingers that I have a good book to read during all this downtime. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself with four hours to kill, and the book you’re reading sucks out loud..
Fortunately, I had a great book, Castaways. I was first introduced to author Brian Keene with his book The Rising – an apocalyptic story with a twist, intelligent zombies. It is an edge-of-your-seat gore fest that has you wincing and squirming and wanting more. The follow-ups, City of the Dead and Dead Sea have more gore and squirm-appeal (although the zombies go back to mindless flesh eaters in DS). Keene has established himself as a master of the zombie genre.
Castaways is not a zombie book, but it is a shudder-a-second thrill ride. Imagine the TV show Survivor with a bunch of carnivorous missing-links running around making meals out of the contestants, and you have the premise of this superb horror novel. A warning to parents who visit this blog looking for young adult novels for their kids, this is not for young adults. There are explicit rape scenes, and graphic passages of people being eaten. This is not for the faint of heart or for the kiddies. I’m not a fan of books with rape scenes as a rule, but if there is such a thing as approaching that sort of thing with great care and sensitivity, Keene does it. Rape is horrific, and no one should ever have to go through it. I found myself hurting for the women who were subject to it in the book. In fact as I was reading this portion of the book to myself, a relative asked me why I was so angry. Apparently I had a noticeable scowl. As a storyteller, it would have been dishonest of Keene to leave it out.
Cryptohiles will recognize the cryptids in this book (a cryptid is an unknown animal), or the cryptid they most closely resemble, I should say. It is the Orang Pendek. They are short bipedal apes that have been seen but not scientifically documented on the island of Sumatra. Keene gives a great non-intrusive history of the urban myth that is surrounding these animals. Granted, he gives them a viciousness that as far as I know has never been reported before, but given the behavior of Travis the chimp in Connecticut a few weeks ago, it is highly plausible. I am a crypto-nerd, and I have to say I loved this element of the story.
This book will also speak to one seemingly unreachable group that seemingly rarely visits the literary world, The Howard Stern fans. If you know the show, you know the on-air brainless duo of Richard and Sal. They make an extremely satisfying cameo in this book. Spoiler Alert – Their appearance is satisfying because they both get eaten by the short bipeds. Richard is a dumb loveable hick on the show and in the book, and you do feel kind of bad when he gets torn to shreds, but I found myself relishing Sal’s delicious end. Yea, Orang Pendeks!
If you are a horror fan, crypto fan, or Howard Stern fan, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. Keene has a great fast paced writing style with gritty, realistic dialogue that hooks you in and keeps you turning the page. Every thumb up (including the freakish third thumb that I keep in a jar by my nightstand)!