Virtualbookworm.com Publishing, 2007
248 pages, Fiction/suspense
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Min’s Monster has all the ingredients for a brutal psychological thriller: crazed villain on the loose in a small town, young girl in pursuit, dedicated cop hot on their trail, snowstorms, guns, knives, blood. Set in a small northwestern country town in the 1950’s, the story starts out like Little House on the Prairie but then quickly turns into Nightmare on Elm Street.
Lila Pinord has created an effective villain in Bruno, a giant, crazed buffoon with serious mother atonement issues and a passion for death, a devotion to blood. Imagine Sloth from The Goonies tripping on rabies. That’s Bruno. You won’t like him. You’re not supposed to like him. He is a nightmare from a horror movie, like Jason or The Terminator, who will not stop hunting until you are dead.
Automatically we root for his prey: a tough, thoughtful 12-year old named Min. She is an independent girl who is close to her parents and educated on life in the woods (she hunted with her father as a child and learned to make soap from bear fat). A few pages in we know that this Laura Ingalls is headed towards a certain showdown with a demented serial killer.
After Bruno escapes from a minimum security prison (more like a workhouse, or day camp) he wanders into town and seeks refuge in a small country shack during a cold, winter storm. Home alone and undetected is Min, who hides in her room armed with strong instincts and a .22 rifle waiting for the intruder to make his move. Will Min turn into Clarice Starling and heroically defend herself or remain a damsel in distress rescued by Coop, the Dudley Do-Right local policeman in pursuit of the escaped convict?
Everything is in place for a great suspense story…but does it work? Well, sort of.
The book’s strength is its characters whose detailed narratives are developed through an effective use of anecdotal action and back-story. They are introspective people that the author knows quite well, almost personally. But we flashback to their past so many times that it tends to distract us from the main story. The adversarial relationship between Bruno and his mother Blossom (I know, don’t get me started) seems to be incomplete. She wishes he had never been born, which is understandable once you get to know Bruno but has she always felt this way? He was a troubled child, always rejected by mom who favored his brother James, Blossom’s Good Son but what accounted for that favoritism? It seems like there needs to be more to Bruno’s dementia than being ignored by his mother. He’s awful and she hates him even before his brutal episodes but we never really know why. Their story needs to be flushed of its inconsistencies and overall the book needs another edit (I counted nine typos).
The story is rich in local history and Pinord really takes us into Quinnu and Center City, two towns where the story takes place. She has either lived there, spent a lot of time in towns like these or has a very vivid imagination. At times it almost feels like researched historical fiction, and I mean that in a good way. Pinord has shaped her own community and populated it with real people.
But the detail and intricate plotting, especially the characters’ internal monologues, can be almost overwhelming at times. Too many details are explained when they don’t need to be. To all authors and writers out there: let us put two and two together – we will love you for it!
The book builds to an edgy climax reminiscent of a formula horror film where we hope that Bruno goes down, and that it’s at Min’s hands. More to see Bruno put out of his misery like a mad dog begging to be shot than to see Min survive the ordeal. She keeps her wits, never panics relies on common sense. With a rifle slung over her back one has images of the child warriors in Somalia and Sierra Leone except this girl is bundled up and surviving in the freezing cold.
And we wonder, what is Bruno? As a man with fantasies of running through the forest gnashing his teeth and smelling the wet fur of other animals, we ask: is he human? A spirit? A strange being reincarnated from long ago? I struggled with a rating for this book. Pinord writes pretty descent suspense and despite its flaws, the story is compelling and will appeal to fans of the horror genre. But it’s wordy, heavy on internal monologue with barely any interactive dialogue. If you like your horror stories narrated and not spoken, you will enjoy this book but if you enjoy reading dialogue as much as I do, you’ll find the book lacking in that area.
Min confronts a physical demon but what her own inner demons? What psychological battle is she trying to overcome in her own mind? Like Clarice Starling, haunted by those screaming lambs, what is Min’s great nightmare? I don’t think she knows. Not yet. After all, she’s only 12. Perhaps the confrontation with Bruno will be her great terror? His giant hands and that chilling howl tormenting her for years to come. Will that mouth-breathing giant who’s hot on her heels live in her nightmares forever? Or has she cleansed her spirit of his frantic assault? In this sense Min’s Monster might be the story of a girl who is not yet ready to grow up, but is well on her way to becoming a troubled mind.
Strengths: solid characters, suspenseful, good use of foreshadowing, filled with nuance, rich in local minutia
Opportunities: minor plotholes, a few typos, overuse of flashbacks
Will appeal to: fans of the horror/thriller/suspense genre
Min’s Monster is available on paperback.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, May 2009