DWELLER by Jeff Strand (2010 Leisure Books / 320 pages / mmp)
Who among us horror fans--during our childhood--didn't daydream about being friends with Kong, Godzilla, Freddy, Jason, or some kind of monster who'd be our friend and watch our backs? You didn't? Liar! I have many, many times.
In Strand's second "serious" novel, a young boy named Toby wanders into the woods, led away by his active imagination. He runs out with everything he has after an encounter with a bigfoot-type creature and eventually wonders if he's losing his mind. His parents help him to see that he hasn't. Flash forward to Toby as a teenager; tired of being bullied by kids in his high school, he takes a walk into the woods and discovers a cave he'd never seen before.
Guess who he meets up with?
Toby eventually names the creature Owen, and goes to the woods to feed it. With his new, secret, clawed-buddy, Toby manages to build a confidence he didn't know he had . . . and when he manages to kill two bullies in the woods, he decides the best way to get rid of the evidence is to feed them to his new friend, who quickly develops a taste for flesh and blood.
As with his previous serious-themed novel, PRESSURE, Strand again puts younger characters into some dark circumstances and does so to believable effect (and when there's a monster involved, that's no easy feat). The focus on this unusual "friendship" goes in a few nifty directions, and in the heart-breaking finale, the author leaves it to the reader to decide who the real monster of the story is.
DWELLER is another fun to read, fast-paced thriller from Strand, and is a best bet for any monster-enthusiast. While there's small bits of Jeff's dark humor thrown here and there and plenty of grue, it's the scenes of Toby and Owen's bonding (especially their final time together) that will stick with you long after you finish the novel. Don't miss this one.
(DWELLER will be released in mass market paperback the first week of March, while you can pre-order a very limited edition hardcover from Dark Regions Press (limited cover below) at horror-mall.com).