Wednesday, October 12, 2011

REVIEW: The Scrubs by Simon Janus

Although I don’t read as much of it as I used to, I cut my teeth on horror novels and am still very much in love with the genre. Not surprisingly, I am also a HUGE fan of Halloween, so I always try to catch up on my horror reads as the October weather begins to turn.

The Scrubs is a book that Simon offered me for review a little while ago, and it’s slowly been creeping its way to the top of the review pile. I usually try to read ‘em in the order I received ‘em but, with the spirit of the season upon me (pun very much intended!), I pulled a few reads out for a mini Halloween Horror celebration.

The story starts off with a bang, establishing the darkly gothic setting of London's Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Already a tense place, full of men on the edge, the prison takes on an ever darker hue thanks to the mystery of the "North Wing Project" and the overcrowding it’s forced upon the general population. Toss in a field of hallucinogen weeds growing beneath the prison, a psychotic serial killer, and a Warden with delusions of grandeur (and greed), and you know things are not going to go well.

At first glance, the experiment at the heart of the story seems distressingly familiar. We’ve all read stories where a killer’s mind is recreated and projected via some sort of virtual reality simulation, but The Rift goes one better – it doesn’t safely recreate the psychotic wilderness, it thrusts us directly into it, with no safety net, no escape mechanism, and no means of pulling the plug.

The first scene inside James Jeter’s head is absolutely glorious in its creepiness. You know something’s wrong when the stream tastes odd, but the slow, bubbling rise of bodies is well done, and the spokesperson for his victims – complete with lips sewn shut – is both alluring and disgusting. By the time Michael Keeler begins the awkward, treacherous walk across a sea of rotting, floating bodies, we know this a dreamland worth exploring.

Much of the story revolves around Michael trying to find the trapped soul of James’ last victim, a boy whose body was never found, and who may still be alive. I’m cautious of spoiling the delicious twists that close out the story, but the discovery of the boy – not just trapped, but physically a part of a tree, requiring that he literally be carved free – is a fantastic scene.

Of course, a few villains always makes a rescue scene better, and while it takes a while before we meet the two prisoners sent into The Rift before Michael, but it’s well worth the wait. The way in which they’ve been twisted and altered by James’ mind is quite monstrous, but the fact that they like it better inside, despite being at the mercy of a mad man, puts it over the top.

On the one hand, I thought the ending was a bit obvious but, on the other hand, I never really expected Simon to pull it off. I love the darker endings, the ones where everything DOESN’T go quite right, and he played right into that personal literary perversion. If you’re looking for a well-written tale, with a good bit of imagination, it’s definitely worth a visit to The Scrubs.