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November 24, 2010

Book Review - The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

I'm gonna go all out to open this review, because my point here is simple: The Dead Path offers pretty much everything I love about horror fiction.  In fact, author Stephen M. Irwin wraps most of those things I love up in his lead character, a haunted, paranoid soul named Nicholas Close.  Nicholas seems to carry all the fears of the world on his person, as the supernatural  forces around him mix with his human fears; his wife's death, his family concerns, and even his sexual frustrations all play into his ordeal.  This is the kind of horror that movies can miss out on; the kind of thing that famed horror authors write but lose when their story hits Hollywood. 

With new characters popping up - each holding different pieces of Nicholas' puzzle - throughout the near 400 page hardcover text, it's easy for the reader to get a bit overwhelmed, too.  Irwin's tale, like his character, mixes differing themes into one narrative.  Again, human fears (such as child abduction) mix with supernatural forces (like ancient runes).  The Dead Path no doubt believes in an interconnected world, taking a somewhat existential approach to the town Nicholas lives in and the people who surrounded him.

The early segments of the novel draw obvious comparisons to films like The Sixth Sense, but Irwin has a lot more up his sleeves than just a protagonist who sees dead people.  The plot heavily relies on that ancient symbol in the middle of the cover (the vertical line with half-diamond that a nerd like me might just recognize from Halloween 6), and I won't spoil the direction the plot twists.  I do feel safe saying that the plot feels like something from Stephen King, as a band of folks from different mindsets come together against a seemingly unstoppable evil.  As I mentioned earlier, the mixture of characters and developments can be a little befuddling at times, but Irwin's characters lift the material up and make these issues obsolete.

Irwin also offers some fantastic descriptors throughout the book, particularly when discussing the woods that contain most of the story's terrors.  (Warning: Anyone with a fear of spiders will squirm quite a bit.)  I often found myself re-reading passages to get a better picture of the setting in my mind, but not due to confusion.  The amount of detail in each setting is pretty impressive.

But let's go back to where we began, because it's the command over human terrors that really propels us into The Dead Path's trap.  Nicholas Close's dilemma, his struggle to deal with the apparitions around him while face-to-face with unbelievable real world problems, is handled brilliantly.  Nicholas isn't a deep character, but we don't need to know much about him to understand that he's a man against the world.  The character reads like a tortured soul should.  I usually cast books full of Hollywood stars as I thumb through them, but I couldn't come up with anyone to play Nicholas.  The character mixes a unique frailty with foolish intensity, and by the finale I found that I really liked this character.  There weren't many good reasons to like him based on his personality, but the perseverance that Irwin gives him is incredibly admirable.  He's a tragic hero if there ever was one.

It took me a while to really get into The Dead Path - the story comes at the reader from a lot of angles early on, and it's difficult to keep track of them all - but once the game is set the plot escalates with each paragraph.  There are a lot of surprising turns, right up to the final page, and Irwin seems to have everything bundled together neatly.  By the time I got to the final chapters, the story had become as intense as any piece of horror in recent memory.  An impressive feat is achieved by first-time author Irwin, and I look forward to what he has coming up next.

If you'd like more info on The Dead Path, head over to Stephen M. Irwin's website or his Facebook page!

2 comments:

Andy the Time Lord said...

Great review, and it has most definitely got me a bit excited to read this. Sounds right up my alley, which is refreshing because there's so few horror novels that peak my interest. Consider it added to my library Que.

Jinx said...

Oh, I was supposed have gotten copies of this but they never showed. God damn British postal service, might as well use bloody carrier pigeons. REALLY want to read it now. Great stuff, Mike!