Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Virus (aka The Missing)

Sarah Langan, 2007, Headline Publishing Group

When school troublemaker James Walker doesn’t get back on the bus after a school excursion, the quiet town of Corpus Christi unites to look for him. However, by the time James emerges from the woods surrounding the town, he has changed. And in his wake, everything else will change as well…

Virus (entitled The Missing in overseas release) was the most recent winner of the Stoker Award for best novel, and deservedly so. Langan takes various familiar horror themes and current social terrors – pandemics, zombies, possession, small-town insularity, etc - and combines them to create something frighteningly original.

Some absolutely superb characterisation complements an extremely nasty plot. The reader gets right inside the heads of even the most disposable characters, discovers what makes them tick, becomes attached to them, and then – all too often – watches them die in the most horrific manner imaginable. There are no absolute good or bad ‘guys’ here – everyone is composed of varying shades of grey. Nice folks don’t always do nice things, and vice-versa. Also, Langan is extremely good at defeating expectations; it’s almost impossible to guess which characters will live, die, or…change, which certainly adds to the tension, and gives the novel an unpleasantly realistic feel. Even the origins of the titular horror are kept deliberately obscure until the final moments, though there are numerous hints dropped along the way - which will probably lead you off in absolutely the wrong direction.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and state for the record that not only is this one of the best horror novels I’ve read this year, it’s also probably one of the five best horror novels I’ve ever read. Virus is guaranteed to creep you out, and is a must-read for horror aficionados.

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