Husk, a first novel from Matt Hults published by relative newcomer Books of the Dead Press, is blessed with some highly complimentary blurbs from some well-known authors. For example, try these on for size:
-“a crackling, creepy tale. A fast-paced read with a generous body count, Husk will make your skin crawl.” – Scott Nicholson
– “…wild, bloody, scary, action-packed, and entertaining as hell.” – Jeff Strand
And, most superlatively:
“Remember the first time you read Joe Lansdale’s The Drive-In, or Freezer Burn? Remember how exhilarated you felt as you tore through the pages…? Miss that feeling of being completely at the mercy of a writer’s imagination and boundless energy for his subject? Fret no more, friends—you now have Matt Hults’s Husk….” – Gary A. Braunbeck
My desire to read Husk can be directly attributed to these blurbs, which, as you might imagine, whetted my appetite. So did the book live up to its advance billing? Well,early returns were not good… Although the book hits the ground running, with action picking up literally from page one, the flurry is occasionally stalled by some awkward passages. For example:
“Muzzle flashes lit up the room, creating a crowd of black shadows that danced on the walls like a cheering crowd of demonic spectators. Frank collapsed to the floor, jaw clenched in a rigor of pain.”
“The Killer drove into a dirt parking lot at the middle of a forest clearing, braking to a stop before an abandoned church. The silence that followed after shutting off the engine became a mute testament to the remoteness of the location. Despite the solitude, the Killer slid out of the van and cast a wary gaze toward the church.”
There are also several unabashedly over-the-top scenes — such as when serial killer Kale Kane is finally mortally wounded after shrugging off numerous bullet wounds, or later in the book when a supernatural entity repeatedly displays its ability to animate objects, including coats, cars and trash — and a disconcerting number of typos. But still…
There’s nonetheless a lot of energy here, propelling the story forward despite its occasional faults, and the breakneck pacing makes for a story that’s ultimately compulsively readable. Hults brings to life a full palette of characters, and while none of them are truly compelling, none stand out as cliches or stereotypes, either. Instead, they fall somewhere in between the two extremes, qualifying as solid, multi-dimensional characters — such as former Detective Frank Atkins, who suffered physical and psychological damage at the hands of Kane, but who battles to overcome his handicaps so that he can help Detective Melissa Humble track down the seeming copycat killer who has emerged several years after Kane’s capture. Or recently-separated dad Paul Wiess and his children BJ and Mallory, the latter of whom possesses certain traits that make her extremely desirable to the killer.
To sum it up, Husk seems like a comic book without pictures — or a graphic novel without graphics, if you prefer. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I could be wrong, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Hults would take that description as a compliment. I can’t recommend Husk across the board, but if you’re a reader who values pacing and action above all else, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy this high-speed ride.