Jul 28, 2011

Applewood - Vampire Book Review

by Brendan P. Myers
By Light Unseen Media, May 2011

[a review by Sandy Rainey]
The smart vampire thriller Applewood, by relative newcomer Brendan P. Myers, has a lot of appeal built into its DNA. At times it will remind the reader of  'Salem's Lot, The Lost Boys, and even the brand-new movie Super 8, which could not possibly have been an influence considering its release date relative to the novel's. I mention these narrative kinfolk not to imply that Applewood is some sort of ho-hum derivative, but to entice more readers into giving this strong effort a chance. In the words of the old Alka-Seltzer commercial: Try it, you'll like it!
The novel is off to a quick start with the discovery of a horribly mutilated corpse in the Massachusetts town of Grantham. The local authorities presume that the damage to the body was done by wild animals—except for Sergeant "Moon" Lombard, who knows a vampire mauling when he sees one. Moon gives the signal, and a tight-knit group of friends from junior high days, long since scattered to the winds, reassembles to confront the danger that bitter experience has equipped them to recognize. One of the friends who answers the call is Scott Dugan, the novel's principal viewpoint character. He returns to his old suburban neighborhood, Applewood, now a rotting and utterly deserted ruin. And his thoughts spool back to that distant junior high time when a plague of nightmare creatures wiped Applewood right off the map.
The bulk of the novel is an extended flashback to those long-ago years, and the late-70s vibe is so tangible you could swear you were there again. (It is the age of the protagonists, their relationships with one another, and the historical and pop culture references that invite comparisons with Super 8, and Myers' handling of the period details compares nicely with that of Abrams and Spielberg.) You need not, however, be a child of the 70s to relate to the experiences of Dugan and his friends: dealing with the loss of a parent, the heartache of first love, the menace of a gang of bullies, the terror of not fitting in—these are the universal rites of passage so faithfully recreated here. The dialog is right on pitch, and Myers' young protagonists react to situations with adolescent authenticity. As we get to know Dugan and his pals, we come to care very much about them. This is Myers' secret weapon, one reason we keep turning the pages as fast as we can.
The other reason? Myers has constructed a tight plot that dashes along at top speed. When three of the boys' classmates turn up missing and the town cemetery is desecrated, strange things start to happen. One by one, the town's citizens begin to disappear. Pooling their knowledge, Dugan and his friends begin to piece together what has happened. A local history project proves invaluable in zeroing in on the threat (Kids: do your history homework!). It turns out that Grantham's Civil War hero, Colonel Alexander Pope, came back from the war a changed man, and brought home a lot more than old war stories. Somehow that old danger was laid to rest; somehow it has come back to life. Knowing that no one will believe their story (if there is even anyone left to lend a hand!), the boys strike out alone to combat a powerful and rapidly expanding evil that threatens to swallow their town and everyone in it.
There are three distinct time frames in the novel, and the reader might wish Myers had spent more time fleshing out the Civil War-era scenes, as well as wrapping up the present-day face-off of the old gang against their long-time nemesis. (To be fair, Myers may be planning a sequel.) But these are minor quibbles. Myers has crafted a suspenseful story alive with period detail and populated with authentic, relatable characters. His is a talented  voice with a lot to offer a genre that can always use an infusion of new blood. 

Sandy Rainey, July 2011


Brendan P. Myers said...

Grateful and humbled by the kind words, Sandy. Mostly, I'm delighted you liked the book. Most sincere thanks for taking the time to do this.

LoriStrongin said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I loved Salem's Lot and Lost Boys, so I may just need to check this one out further. Thanks for the rec!


Patricia Altner said...

Hi Lori

Thanks for writing. Hope you have a chance to read Applewood.

Sandy Rainey said...

It was my pleasure, Mr. Myers! This was such an enjoyable read--very difficult to put down! Lori, I hope you get to give this one a try!