The Nightmare Girl by Jonathan Janz

Joe Crawford never would have expected to witness a mother abusing her infant, but making a stop at a gas station forces Joe to make a decision – to involve himself or let it be. Being a family man himself, he can’t bear the sight, yet saving Little Stevie from abuse results in terrible repercussions. Now a group of people have Joe in their sights, and they blame him for losing one of their own. They’ll stop at nothing to succeed in their revenge, even endangering Joe’s own daughter.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank Flame Tree Press for giving me the opportunity.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I feel like this is the first time I’ve really connected with one of Janz’s books, and by that I mean I was so completely enthralled from start to finish. The beginning demanded my attention – quite literally – and I couldn’t look away, not only due to how emotionally charged it was, but of how easy it was to imagine that situation playing out before my eyes. Would you interfere and help someone in need, a child at that? That was the question it presented; the lengths in which a stranger would go to help the helpless, and how even noble actions can have consequences. The initial scene was brilliantly written, and even being void of anything relating to the supernatural, it held a certain terror that proved addictive. Now I’m fully aware of Janz’s ability to not only skillfully construct action-packed rampages, but also plots with a little nuance.

It could have been considered a slow burn overall, putting meaningful emphasis on family dynamics. I appreciated the subtlety of the majority of chapters, which struck me as very much the polar opposite of the last Janz I read (Savage Species). Whilst there were definite themes of the occult, it wasn’t too flashy, which did it a favour; the constant looming threat that never truly manifested itself led to a large amount of trepidation.

Characters were the life-blood of the novel; their motivations and principles. I became fond of the hero (because he was definitely a hero), Joe, as he tried to make sense of what was going on. His marriage was beautiful with the inclusion of marital ups and downs – I always find I can relate when the portrayal is realistic. His blossoming friendship with Darrel Copeland also amused me, and before I knew it I was massively attached to the Sheriff. I found his sense of humour, and his personality, to be endearing. It’s not often that I root for a character so passionately, but I did with Copeland.

The ending segments were the only thing that brought it down a notch for me. The excessive display of violence seemed to extinguish the quietly sinister atmosphere. I’m not saying Janz doesn’t do bloodshed well – of course he does – but the exaggerated chaos seemed out of place. If it had of been a little more in tune, then this read would have been perfection.

In conclusion: The Nightmare Girl was a thrilling experience, and pulled upon the heartstrings. The characters were as genuine as real flesh and blood, and I quickly became heavily invested in their lives. Janz’s usual monsters were absent, instead appointing that title to the cult members and their wicked beliefs. My favourite Janz so far, and I still have many more of his to get through.

Notable Quote:

But God help him, Joe didn’t need to see the face to know who this was. He could see the roasted flesh of the shoulders, the way the skin had separated from the dermis and curled up like strips of bacon. The smell hit him then, and it reminded him disgustingly of hog roasts, of something spitted and rotating, something licked by eager tongues of flame.

© Red Lace 2019

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