Horror novel, written by Stephen Graham Jones and published by Gallery/Saga Press in 2021. It is the first book in the Indian Lake trilogy, followed by "Don't Fear the Reaper," which was published in 2023, and "The Angel of Indian Lake," which is set to be published in 2024.
Our heroine is Jade Daniels, a half-Indian teenager living an utterly dead-end life in Proofrock, Idaho, a little mountain town that's been a no-hope hell for decades -- until the last few years, when a bunch of celebrities and tech-bros decided to gentrify the town and build their own little paradise on the other side of Indian Lake. Jade is stuck living with her dad, an abusive drunk, and she's the town outcast, partly because she recently attempted suicide, and partly because she's absolutely obsessed with slasher movies. Has most of them memorized. Talks about almost nothing but slasher movies.
Oddly, slashers -- actual slashers -- have shown up in Proofrock in the past. Fifty years ago, there was the massacre at Camp Blood -- where the billionaire tech-bros unwisely want to place their new Terra Nova housing development -- and even before that, there was the mysterious and terrifying Stacey Graves, the Lake Witch, the Indian girl too murderous and evil to be drowned -- they say she still haunts Indian Lake, trapped below the surface of the water.
And Jade desperately wishes Proofrock would get visited by another slasher, partly because the town is pretty bad, partly because her life is pretty bad, partly just to relieve the boredom and tension. Jade knows she wouldn't survive a slasher movie. She knows she's not Final Girl material. Final Girls are good girls, not weirdos, not Indians, not troublemakers.
And then a couple Dutch exchange students get butchered and dumped in the lake. Which means Jade Daniels' personal slasher movie is rolling its opening credits.
But before we get that far in, there are important supporting cast members to review. There's Tab Daniels, Jade's aforementioned abusive drunk of a father, and Kimmy Daniels, Jade's generally absentee mother. There's Sheriff Hardy, a hardass cop with a soft center -- he supervises Jade's public service, but is willing to look the other way when it comes to some of her activities. There's Mr. Holmes, Jade's history teacher, who lets her write "Slasher 101," a multi-part history and analysis of slasher movies, instead of standard history homework, because he recognizes that she gets nothing out of history and gets something very important from slashers. And there's Letha Mondragon, the daughter of one of the billionaires developing Terra Nova, who's beautiful, kind, at the top of the popularity pyramid, and willing to be friends with Jade.
Jade thinks Letha is going to be the Final Girl. But Letha knows nothing about slasher movies, doesn't believe there's a slasher in town, and doesn't know what skills she'll need to battle a slasher. So Jade is going to have to teach her, mostly by giving her movies to watch.
So Jade ends up racing all over Proofrock, from the Sheriff's office to the school to the lake to Terra Nova to a gruesome bone pit to a billionaire's yacht, chasing and being chased by... someone dreadful, trying to make time with Letha to teach her about slashers, and stumbling over way too many slaughtered corpses. And it all culminates on July 4, at Proofrock's annual showing of "Jaws" on an inflatable movie screen, with everyone bobbing on the lake in small boats and rafts, as Proofrock's latest slasher film moves into its gore-drenched climax. Who will survive? And what will be left of them?
This is a really fun novel. There's bloody gobs of tension. Jade doesn't really know who the slasher is -- she has suspicions, some right on the money, some way off. And she has no idea where the killer may be from moment to moment. Is she going to be safe in town or at school? Is she in danger at home? How much danger is there if she goes up to Terra Nova? Serious gore is fairly uncommon, as many of the kills happen off-stage. But when it's time for the guts to fly, it's layered on nice and thick. As it should be! This is a slasher novel, dammit!
And all the best slasher movies actually had excellent characters to go along with the murders and gore. This book has excellent characters and characterizations, too. Jade, obviously, is the superstar of this book. She's depressed, grumpy, deeply sarcastic, a loner, but also whip-smart, heroic, resourceful. She's an outsider, an outcast, and she is very easy to root for.
There's less detail for the supporting cast, partly because Jade is the spotlight character and doesn't know what's going on inside their heads, and partly because they're there to fill specific roles in a slasher narrative. Mr. Holmes is the kind teacher, frustrated by Jade's behavior, but resolute in his belief that she's a better person than she believes. Sheriff Hardy is crotchety and stern, but he's also solidly in Jade's corner. (If this book were a movie, Hardy would be played by Tom Atkins.) Letha is gorgeous, achingly nice, and terrifyingly innocent -- you never really know if she's going to be the Final Girl, or if she's going to blunder into the killer's machete because she doesn't understand the genre. (This is a major source of suspense in the book.) And even the minor characters are very well fleshed-out -- they could've easily been one-dimensional cutouts, but they've all got at least a bit of personality and flavor to make them interesting.
Jade's extra-credit "Slasher 101" essays for her history teacher are a great addition to the book's background and mood, as well as an excellent resource for readers. If you don't know a lot about slasher movies, these essays will give you a detailed history of the genre, back to "Halloween," back to giallo, back to "Psycho," and back even further. You'll get all the subgenres, tropes, and themes of the genre. You get great overviews of the important, well-known slashers, and you even get solid info about much lesser-known movies. And even here, you get important pieces of characterization. A little-regarded film that Jade talks about more than once is a 1981 movie called "Just Before Dawn," in which the Final Girl doesn't just survive the killer, doesn't just beat him or kill him -- she brutalizes him, pulls off an attack that would normally be reserved for the sadistic slasher, not the last surviving teen. And then there's the one subgenre that Jade doesn't like watching or reviewing -- but telling that one here would be giving too much away...
If you love horror, if you love slashers, if you love amazing, inspiring Final Girls that you want to read about in sequel after sequel, then you have to read this book. Go get it today.
(Also, I really want to see this get adapted as a movie someday.)