Kind Nepenthe had been on my Kindle for a while. I’d bought it after reading a review which piqued my interest enough for me to click ye olde ‘purchase’ button. But like happens so much with me, when I got round to reading it I’d completely forgotten anything about it.
I was expecting a full-on horror novel, I think. And although this would definitely be wedged in the horror genre, it was so much more.
Calendula and Rebecca are a couple of dreadlocked hippies living and working in a secluded weed farm in the woods. Rebecca yearns for a better life for her and her daughter, Megan. She is promised by her boyfriend that once this next batch is finished they’ll be rolling in the wonga. Her new life seems within touching distance.
Coyote, the man who owns the weed farm, isn’t the nicest bloke you could meet. He drinks, he drugs, he whores, he does it all. He also knows the history of the land where his farm is situated. There are stories of death aplenty, hell, the place is known locally as Homicide Hill. There’s a big clue that it’s probably a place you’d want to steer clear of.
In the neighbouring land lives Diesel, an ex-con, wife-beating, meth smoking/dealing asshole. His son, DJ, just a close second in the asshole assembly, is expecting his first child, awww! Their house of meth, drug deals, and guns is the perfect environment for a baby.
The setting described is great and the details incredibly vivid. You really get a sense of the place, you can almost feel the dirt and grease under your fingernails as you read. The history of the area is pretty unsettling as locals speak of the young boy who died there in the past. It’s only when Megan sees and begins conversing with the boy that you’re reminded this is a creepy story.
This unsettling vibe is created with only hints of the supernatural for most of the book. It’s only towards the end of the story that things go full-on horror, and when they do…
Ghosts appear, influencing the behaviour of one character in particular, and Rebecca becomes convinced she’s got to get out of there. The others that turn up to help harvest the weed begin having shared dreams and it is obvious there is some hidden malevolent force at work in the woods. Violence ensues, culminating in a great and gory ending.
There’s a great sense of hopelessness in this book. Although the characters all have hope; Rebecca for a better life, Calendula for the big pay-off to finance his dream of living off the land, Diesel for finally looking forward to turn his life around for the sake of himself and his arriving grandson, DJ wishing to not be like his dad. But you just know nothing is going to work out for them.
If you’re expecting a ghost story where the protagonists spend all their time trying to flee or fight the evil at work, this isn’t the novel you’re looking for. The horror here is much more subtle than that and well worth the ride. You could argue this is a slow-burner, but even when there are few actual scares going on, the characters, however awful they are as human beings, keep you engrossed.
A top notch, unsettling, and creepy read and, as you may have guessed, highly recommended.
Categories: book review