A stray thought that has been rattling its way around my mind for a little while now can probably best be summed up by the following proposition: It’s possible that the only difference between a horror movie and an action movie is the presence (or absence) of a ‘hero’ archetype. Remove John McClain and his actions from Die Hard, for instance, and you are left with a really scary story about cold blooded mass murder and theft. Con Air without Nick Cage, Lethal Weapon without Danny Glover, Raiders without Indy... OK, that last one might be a bad example But you get the point.
It’s a thought that returned to me forcefully as I read Mountain Home by Bracken MacLeod.
Mountain Home opens in an American roadside diner, just at the tail end of the lunch rush. With admirably economic story-telling, we meet Lyn, the waitress, working hard and not getting a break. We get to know her, in a very short number of words. We understand her. We empathise.
And then, on page 3, the bullets start flying.
From there, it’s pure survival horror – or an action movie without the action hero to save the day. Instead we have the employees and few customers of the restaurant that survive the initial attack. Huddled. Scared. Desperate. The prose is clear and unfussy, and does a great job of letting the intensity of the situation and the plight of the characters speak for themselves. The writing is cinematic without ever devolving to purple prose. The pacing is also excellent, with a feeling of real-time desperation interspersed with skilful flashbacks, as the story behind the shooter is slowly revealed.
Mountain Home is a superb hardcore thriller. Mr Macleod has a real gift for character and setting - the people in this story feel painfully real. Likewise, the mill they are put through, while extreme, has the awful ring of authenticity to it. The book evokes Stephen King's The Mist, Rambo, and the action movie genre in general, but has far deeper, realer and richer characterisation than that genre usually musters. It also takes great advantage of the things that prose can do that a film cannot, by exposing the inner thoughts of the characters as the pressure mounts, to great effect. This is not thrills for thrills sake, but rather an intense exploration of people under enormous pressure, facing slim odds. It's a story of blood, survival, and the costs of violence. Intelligent and thoughtful, without ever veering into pretension, with a crisp, clean prose style, I am mightily impressed with this book, and look forward to more work from this clearly talented author.
Lyn works at an isolated roadside diner. When a retired combat veteran stages an assault there her world is turned upside down. Surviving the sniper’s bullets is only the beginning of Lyn's nightmare. Navigating hostilities, she establishes herself as the disputed leader of a diverse group of people that are at odds with the situation and each other. Will she - or anyone else - survive the attack?
"Bracken MacLeod's MOUNTAIN HOME hits like a Claymore mine and cuts with the emotional precision of a scalpel. Ferocious and tender, painful and real. A powerful and thoughtful first novel." ~ Chet Williamson, International Horror Guild Award winning author of Soulstorm
"Damn well worth your time. A tense thriller full of well-drawn characters and an imaginative setup that puts it all in motion. This guy's ready for the big leagues." ~ New York Times Bestseller, Christopher Golden
"VERY accomplished debut novel. I cared about the main characters and they were vividly real. Riveting debut novel." ~ World Horror Convention Grand Master, Jack Ketchum