A couple of months ago, I met author Jack Ketchum at the Morbid Anatomy Museum where he was giving a lecture on his books and film adaptations as part of the American branch of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies lecture series. As Ketchum spoke and showed clips from his films, I realized I’d been missing out on a rather significant aspect of the horror genre. Jack Ketchum has been credited as one of the major influences in bringing elements of slasher horror from film to books, creating a genre that some have referred to as “splatterpunk.” Generally, an excess of gore is not really what I go for in my horror, but the Miskatonic Institute talk had me intrigued. I decided to pick up one of Jack Ketchum’s books. Unfortunately, none of his big-name works—Off Season, The Lost, The Girl Next Door, The Woman—were immediately available from my library. Instead I landed on the audiobook of one Ketchum’s books that has not yet been made into a movie, Hide and Seek.
I found that Hide and Seek completely defied my expectations of a horror novel, especially one by an author who has made his reputation in blood and guts. No hint of gore appeared until the last few chapters, and I would say eighty percent of the book read like a different genre entirely. The story follows Dan Thomas, a young man in his early twenties drifting through life in his small town where nothing happens. The monotony suddenly shatters when a band of rich and restless college kids come to stay for the summer. Dan meets the stunning and unabashedly confident Casey on the beach and inadvertently helps her to casually steal a car. Soon, Dan is regularly joining Casey and her two friends, Kim and Steve, on their shoplifting and skinny-dipping escapades.
Throughout the story are hints that Casey is a little unstable, which led me to think the book was going in a totally different direction than it ultimately did. I kind of wanted to see how Dan would react if Casey went dark, and what his true boundaries were. How psycho would Casey have to be before the amazing sex stopped being worth it? But as it turns out, Casey isn’t the Big Scare in this story, although she does play a role in helping it come about. Toward the end of the novel, Casey decides that it would be fun to play a game of Hide and Seek an old abandoned house. This is when the book finally gets scary. The house is rumored to still be haunted by the crazy brother and sister that used to live there, and Casey thinks the element of danger will add to the excitement of their night. It starts out as all fun and games, but then the game turns deadly…
Ultimately, I really wasn’t impressed by the whole last section of the book. It went in a completely different direction from what I was expecting, and none of the scary elements really tickled the right horror bones for me. I’m sure some will find the ending terrifying, and it certainly would be in real life, but I read the last few chapters with a sort of detachment from the horror and the action. I did eventually get sucked back in, but not as much as I had been before. I really enjoyed the rest of the book, despite its lack of horror. Jack Ketchum’s writing is good, and it’s nice to know that he can write things other than gore, but I think I will have to pick up one of his other books if I want a good scare.
Have you read any Jack Ketchum books? Which ones would you recommend? What are your thoughts on Hide and Seek? Let me know in the comments!