Sunday, June 24, 2007

OFFSPRING by Jack Ketchum

In 1981 a first time author published a slim horror novel that would change the genre forever. The novel: Off Season; the author: Jack Ketchum. Off Season was a paperback original published by Ballantine Books, and sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 copies. Unfortunately the novel was deemed as repulsive, and unfit for human consumption—his next novel, Hide and Seek sold less than 50,000 copies.
In 1989 Jack Ketchum published the sequel to his legendary Off Season, and it disappeared from bookstore shelves nearly as quickly as it arrived. And it has been almost impossible to find without getting a second mortgage on the house ever since. This June Leisure Books re-released Offspring, and I finally got my hands on it.

Offspring has taken a few hits over the years. It has been challenged by a few top critics in the horror genre as nothing more than a derivative jumble of over processed crap. I had never read it, and so I held judgment, and I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed Offspring a whole lot.

Offspring takes place eleven years after Off Season, and the books are very much connected. The Sheriff of Deep River, Maine—George Peters—is haunted by the events of 1981; he has retired, his wife and only friend died a few years earlier, and his only solace is in the bottle. That changes on the evening of May 12, 1992 when the new Sheriff of Deep River pays him a call with a story of two brutal murders. The Sheriff asks for Peters help, and the scene is eerily familiar. The murder victims have been disemboweled and literally cannibalized. George Peters knows who is responsible, and he fears they won’t be able to stop the clan before they wreak havoc on the town.

Offspring is a well-written tale of gruesome, violent, and horrifying terror. There are no vampires, ghosts, zombies or anything else of the netherworld here, there is just good old fashioned human evil. The type of evil Jack Ketchum does better than anyone else. And it is scary as hell simply because gruesome inhuman stuff like this happens.

Offspring has the feel of a well-executed horror movie, although the themes and underlying meaning has much more depth than many of the current crop of films. The characters are likable; the description is tight and serves the storyline well. Jack Ketchum is my favorite writer of horror tales, and Offspring lived up to my expectations. It wasn’t quite at the level of Off Season, but it was tight, scary and very well plotted.

Now if we could get Mr. Ketchum to churn out a new novel or two.

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