There comes a rare time when one runs across a book they find truly disturbing, genuinely eerie in moments. These uncommon gems are to the jaded horror fan a sign there is hope more will come, if we all sit and wait patiently, convinced that after muddling through decent book after decent book, something else will arrive again to terrify us in our minds. The Chosen Child is one of those creations, pulsing with genuine tension, true fear, eerily disturbing scenarios, and straight-forward, unrelenting, and undiluted horror.
Strangely, this starts out rather boring. The first chapter or so tries the patience, and I had to commit myself to give it a full-fledged chance. Sarah Leonard is supervising the construction of a massive hotel project in post-Cold War Warsaw. Stakes and pressure are high, and she has made her way to the top only by being a tough, iron-clad ‘bitch’ who makes things happen. When a headless body is discovered in a sewer tunnel at a construction site, the workers refuse to continue until the air is cleansed, fretting over a legend that symbolizes a demon, or even ‘the devil’, is down below. Gritting her teeth, she has to put up with a detective, Stefan Rej, who is out on the hunt for a serial killer fitting the same M.O. as the headless man’s body shows.
While he’s on one side conducting the hunt with no clues to go on, he encounters the formulaic general police politics and interference, the odd victims that keep arising, the loss of a friend/companion, and the steady strings of clues that eventually lead him to the right direction. Sarah, on the other hand, has to deal not only with broken down workers, but also with the unwarranted advances of a boss, who’s also an ex, and convince the workers it is indeed safe to go on. Both of them end up meeting more than they imagined, of course, but the plot is anything but predictable when THAT happens. Finished off the plot synopsis by quoting directly off the cover jacket: “The location is linked to the ancient legend of the Tunnel Child, a murderous creature with the face of an angel. Rumors insist that the Nazis attempted to create such a being with their warped science.”
The plot itself is a complex labyrinth of imagination, obstacles, and unique approach. The villain is eerie enough to jitter the most hardened horror heart; killing techniques are brutal, bloody, grim, and Masterton writes in a skillful way where the ‘sound effects’ others hear amplify the horror 100%. It’s impossible to describe on a review the degree of how unsettling some of these scenes are, but I promise you these deaths will haunt you after this book is long closed. I know they have me.
It’s not a quick fly-by either, it’s long and drawn out, and one reason the villain works so well in this story is because Masterton cleverly keeps the limelight off him a majority of the time. Since a lot occurs in the city’s underground, darkness is an advantage. Even the victim, when we’re inside their heads, may not know what the hell they’re encountering. They only know the strange shuffling they hear, that something is moving far faster than it should down there, etc. It’s amazing work, a creative game of show and tell, leaving so much to the imagination that it’s impossible not to picture something amazingly grim. Even for the uncreative, logical reader, you won’t have to try hard to here to conjure up the ghastliest image out there.
Characters aren’t stiff, they’re rather fun. They have the good sides, the bad sides habits, and naturally the dependencies. Well-rounded out and tragic in their own ways, the story cleanly absorbs them. Motivations make sense, scenes aren’t drawn out overly long, and characters are only introduced when needed. Foreshadowing is delightfully heavy, enriching the chilling, serious atmosphere. Suspense is super high around every corner, and throughout the whole novel I was enraptured by this gritty, serious world. The ending is a nice surprise, explaining things one wouldn’t guess, wrapping it up perfectly. One must ask, though, once everything is said and done, what the hell is up with that last page ending?? I guess it’s another thing left to the imagination.
While starting off choppy and slightly dry (which is why the four stars rating was earned), once attention is ensnared with The Chosen Child, it’s kept. Masterton has proved time and time again he knows his stuff, having a natural tendency toward inducing the creep and ick factor in all. His writing compliments the story. Those who enjoy detective in their horror will go all oogly eyed here, but for those who don’t the thing isn’t a full fledged cop hunt. That’s concentrated on much less than I pictured. Do yourself a favor and read this from the first page to the last the images that are within will haunt you weeks after it’s over.
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