Updated: May 27
This review was originally posted on Horror Oasis.
Those You Killed, the strong debut novel by Christopher Badcock from Dark Lit Press, is a dark tale of rural horror which explores the ravages of drug abuse and redemption through a supernatural lens.
Elwood Cathis was a reasonably successful horror writer before his addictions got the better of him. Now he is an empty shell of a man, relying on a last-ditch attempt to go clean at an isolated rural cabin—owned by his dealer of all people. Once there, Elwood suffers not only the harrowing effects of withdrawal but frightening hallucinations, visitations and hauntings that have him questioning what is real and what isn’t. As the story progresses, Elwood discovers there may be ancient forces lurking in the surrounding woods, forces that prey on those at their lowest ebb—such as a recovering junkie at his wit's end.
Badcock has taken the trope of the horror writer (which has been explored a great deal over the years, not least by the master of horror Stephen King himself) and added the twist of drug addiction, which has destroyed his career and separated him from his family. Despite a hint of familiarity with the struggling writer plot and little in the way of backstory to Elwood and his profession, the author delves deep into his broken psyche, placing the reader right there with him giving us a front-row seat to the pain, confusion and fear he is experiencing. Through strong sensory and personal writing, Badcock brushes aside any nagging notions of familiar tropes. What resonates here is the tragic descent of a desperate man who has hit rock bottom, wrestling with his demons and consuming large amounts of alcohol to stave off the cravings for his drug of choice.
The author smartly realises that a good protagonist needs an equally good antagonist, and while it would be a spoiler to reveal who that might be, the yin to Elwood’s yang is a worthy adversary. The forces that hold sway over the surrounding area conjure some truly unsettling visions and imagery. And because of their proximity to the cabin and interest in Elwood, it is never too long before another ghostly intrusion comes along to rattle the reader's bones. One scene that starts as a hallucinatory and erotic sexual encounter becomes something truly hideous and unsettling.
Badcock also excels in his dialogue, particularly for the rural characters and has a good ear for a turn of phrase or colloquialism. Though we get only glimpses into the nearby community, it feels fully fleshed and believable (another trait the author shares with a certain Mr King).
There is a constant ramping up of dread as well as the classic slow reveal of information about what is going on in those dark woods surrounding the cabin. The mythology is rich and interesting while verging slightly on the convoluted side. And while the book is a touch overlong, there is nothing really egregious or long-winded about it. If anything, it could be seen as too much of a good thing, whereas often less is more. There are a couple of out-of-the-blue chapters that tear the reader from the main narrative, which I found quite jarring. Later on, it becomes clear what they signify, but I feel those transitions could have been a touch smoother.
But my gripes are small in comparison to the strength of the writing and the author’s commitment to painting a vivid picture of the damaged Elwood, a man struggling to do the right thing, but finding himself at the mercy of some vicious and formidable supernatural forces. Badcock has fashioned a disturbing horror story that will satisfy those looking for a good spook-fest and an affecting character study of a man clinging to life by a mere thread. This is an impressive first book, which marks the author as a fully-formed storyteller and one to watch for the future.
4.5 out of 5.