CRUEL SUMMER by Wesley Southard
There were several themes in Cruel Summer which grabbed me by the throat. And that’s not even including that horrific yet wholly enticing cover art. The first was that it was set in Florida which is one of my favourite places and there was even a reference to Disney World. Tick.
It delves deep into the relationship between a mother and her child. Gulp but tick.
And the abstract main character - the sea. The god damn sea and all the drowny stuff. I am deathly afraid of open water and I can’t swim well. I sweat like a pig just putting my feet in a pool. So yeah, if we read horror to freak us out then, tick. Actually, TICK. This was my first outing with Wesley and I have to say that I enjoyed it and will be looking to read more. I am on a real Death’s Head Press kick at the moment and I have yet to be disappointed with the amount of graphic violence and gore depicted within their publications. Bring on the splatterpunk!
As we follow Melissa and Patrick’s story, there were some genuinely heart-wrenching mother and son moments which added to the investment that I had in these characters. The boyfriend, Hoyt, was thoroughly ghastly and well I can’t give anything away but there was out loud whooping at one point. The third act of the story in particular read like a Hollywood movie and I couldn’t put it down. It was an amped up race to the end where everything went completely nuts and I loved it.
Without giving any spoilers, I enjoyed the use of Greek mythology within the narration too as it added gravitas and depth to the plot. Mixed in with the Hollywood blockbuster feeling, I could also see certain scenes as Harryhausen animation in my mind. Brilliant. Overall, I really enjoyed this. Because of my own fear of open water, it certainly added to the tension and there were scenes that made me genuinely uncomfortable. And isn’t that what horror is often all about? I give Cruel Summer 4 stars.
Thank you so much to Sadie for allowing me to be a part of this Night Worms party and to Wesley Southward and Death’s Head Press for sending me a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.
Janine Pipe is currently writing a splatterpunk novella about a teenage vampire hunter and has a horror podcast with fellow Brit and indie author, Lou Yardley called Cryptids, Crypts and Coffee.
CRUEL SUMMER is a book about the unwavering love of a parent for a child. It is also a book about the evil within humans and a much older darker evil that hides in the depths of the ocean. In lesser hands the balance between moments of familial love and extreme terror could come off as forced or fake. Thankfully, Wesley Southard is one of the better horror writers in the game. In this novel he is able to make the quiet and reflective moments breath like a calm ocean early in the morning and then turn on a dime and serve up some extremely suspenseful and harrowing passages like being stuck out at sea in the middle of a hurricane.
Melissa Braun and her son Patrick are taking a much need vacation to Florida with Melissa’s no-good boyfriend Hoyt. There have been plenty of great evil humans (NOT possessed by a spirit just genuinely bad people) in horror fiction over the years. Hoyt fits in with the likes of Henry Bowers in Stephen King’s IT, but even more vicious. In time Melissa and Patrick fight back against Hoyt, but in the process unleashes a darker and older evil. Southard then leads us through a mother’s struggle to continue to protect herself and her son from a suspicious detective, unusual aquatic creature behavior, a monster from the darker depths, and it all culminates with some of my favorite chapters in recent memory. I don’t want to give too much away, but you won’t find me anywhere near the ocean for a good long time.
I didn’t find the book lagged or got bogged down even when it turn to the personal relationship between Melissa and Patrick, or when Melissa reconnects with an old friend who she turns to for help later in the book. This is due in large part to Southard’s ability create characters that feel real — Patrick is perfect representation of a pre-teen and Melissa is a single parent who tends to second guess herself. The bond between mother and child, even when it is strained, is woven into the fabric of this book. All this makes the more horrific moments even more impactful.
Speaking of those horrific moments, Southard slowly builds the horror over the course of the book. You can feel the slow escalation and menace that follows Melissa and Patrick after the evil is unleashed. There is one section of the book that I thought couldn’t creep me out, but it did and now I can’t go anywhere near one of my favorite water-based creatures! The encounters with the evil element culminate in some very unique scenes of violence and gore which are described in stomach churning detail. Needless to say I loved every moment of it.
Wesley Southard has taken us down to the water in CRUEL SUMMER. That water might be calm at times, but when it turns dark and ominous there is no telling what might happen next. If you are a fan of horror fiction that blends the best of creepiness and gore with a tale about family then reel this one in right now.
A big thanks to Deaths Head Press and Sadie at Night Worms for the review copy of this book.