Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010DWELLER by Jeff Strand
Followers of my reviews will know that I have loved Jeff’s previous books, Pressure and Benjamin’s Parasite. Dweller, it seemed to me, had a lot more hype than the other books, perhaps by riding on the waves made by Pressure.
The books starts with a massacre: some holidaying soldiers during WW2 are attacked by large, hairy, fanged, clawed creatures. Skip to the 50s. Toby is a geeky kid who is being tormented by two particularly nasty bullies at school. Seeking comfort in the deep woods that surround his house, Toby stumbles across a large, hairy, fanged, clawed beast living in a small cage. His first reaction? To run screaming, of course. Years later, and as an even more bullied teenager, Toby finds the monster again. This time, in a more controlled confrontation, Toby learns that the monster isn’t a feral, rabid beast after all…it can be his friend.
So starts a friendship that lasts decades between loner Toby and the creature he calls Owen.
As with Pressure, Jeff takes us on the journey of a lifetime, and we see how events of the past can heavily change and warp the future for the poor protagonist. We have a very sympathetic lead character in Toby. You can see his inner torment, and as a reader, you get dragged into his decisions. Okay, at times things seemed a little forced to get to an action scene or bump up the tension, such as Toby making some truly awful and moronic decisions. At the time of reading, I was thinking about the level of believability. Seriously, I was asking the book what the fuck are you thinking, Tobes? However, the more you think about it, the more his ill-informed decisions fit the plot. He’s socially inept, not overly bright, and going through a conflict of emotions. Is he really going to do the right thing? Seeing him make the wrong choice, and then watching his world collapse around him, rather than frustrating gets you invested in his fate.
Enough about Toby. What about Owen? I couldn’t help but picture Owen as Wildmutt from Ben 10 as I was reading this novel. Don’t know why. Anyway, Owen is a surprising character. He could have been treated like a big dog, but Strand gives him just above ape-like intelligence, granting him some basic communication. This cements the relationship between Toby and Owen further.
The side characters are adequately fleshed out and are a good support. But they aren’t the key players here. It’s all about Toby and his monster.
The gore is not excessive (well, as much as you’d expect with a monster eating people. Nom nom nom!) and just on the money. Pacing is great, and there’s a few twists and turns.
I think that people who read this as their first taste of Strand’s work will lap it up. Personally, while I enjoyed this book, I preferred Pressure…but that might be that I read it first. Strand has shocks a plenty, but after Pressure, I couldn’t trust him, and was watching for these awful, awful shock scenes early. Pressure is the nastier novel, but Dweller focuses more on relationships and friendships. It depends how you like your horror served.
Hell, just buy both. And Benjamin’s Parasite. And anything else of Jeff’s. Period.