It has been 25 years since Cyrus Hoyt claimed the lives of all of Melanie Hoyt’s friends at Camp Forest Grove. It has been 25 years since she claimed the final girl title and supposedly claimed Cyrus Hoyt’s life. When a friend suggests that she head back to that camp to write a book about her experiences, she puts on a brave face and does just that. Melanie returns to the small town to uncover the mystery of Cyrus Hoyt. But how much will the town let her uncover?
Matt Serafini, is a beautiful wonderful genius. The writing in Under the Blade is top notch. It is unpredictable and original. I said this before and I will say it again, Under the Blade gives the entire slasher genre a kick in the nuts. I know you’re thinking FRIDAY THE 13TH, but this is just so much more than that.
The opening scene in this book is amazing. We start out in a flashback to the scenes that made Melanie the final girl that she is and then kick right into her current, boring professor's life. I LOVED that juxtaposition from the prior crazy slasher chaos to the current everyday life. I think it was a really smart way to make sure we remembered exactly why Melanie might be so jumpy and scared sometimes.
I really enjoyed the numerous amounts of conflicts in this book. Not only with Melanie, but even with secondary characters. Characters are fighting for school dances, for old ways of life, for new information. There isn’t just one battle here, everyone has something to lose and it gives the book depth and makes it that much more compelling.
There are three main characters here, Melanie, Trish and Trish’s husband, Nate. Melanie was great. Maybe a little stubborn, but overall I connected the most with her. She was strong when she needed to be, but fragile at other times. She had a pretty good moral compass and I could see myself being friends with her. Trish was the character that annoyed me the most. I’m fairly certain she was written to annoy us, but she was totally unlikable. She stuck out in the small town of Forest Grove with her goth-punk image and her need to change everything around to be more liberal. Her husband, Nate (who was also the chief of police in Forest Grove) was a smart and confident character and Trish really took him for granted. Their relationships were believable and they all felt pretty real to me, even if one of them was realistically annoying.
The town of Forest Grove was a really neat character itself. It is old school. The massacre at the camp really pumped the brakes on any and all fun that the kids in the strict and conservative town might have. I really loved that we get to learn more about the town’s dark past through small flashbacks as well.
Our villain, Cyrus Hoyt, is an AWESOME antagonist. He isn’t quite as mindless as we might have believed in the first two chapters. He is a powerhouse of a guy in a welding mask that is hard to take down and hard to get away from. He is everything I never want to meet in the woods.
I love that this book while including all the typical horror tropes, is completely surprising. We have the camp massacre, we have the conservative locals with watchful eyes and the creepy old gas stations. We even have an old house in the middle of a field. I mean, come on, this is CLASSIC horror. But then this book zigs and makes you think you know where this towns’ dark history came from and then it zags and makes you think twice. I loved that a lot of things that seemed unimportant earlier in the book fell into place to reveal some massive truths that had been staring us down the entire time.
You guys know me by now, I’ll always judge gore quite harshly and this book did it right. Serafini didn’t leave a single sinew out and he didn’t overdo it. It’s beautifully descriptive gore that tells you exactly what you need to know without making you, wretch.
Overall, this book was a fun and twisting ride with lots of secrets that it holds close to its chest. Secrets that it will only reveal when the time is just right and you aren’t suspecting them. It was lovely and I am recommending this 5 star read to everyone. Just read it. Matt Serafini will astonish you, guaranteed.
When Melanie Holden was a teenage camp counselor at Camp Forest Grove, Cyrus Hoyt went on a killing spree that left her the only survivor. Melanie managed to escape her own death by doing a murder to Cyrus instead. But she didn’t wait around to make sure he actually died. She never saw his body. Now, it’s 25 years later, and Melanie is still dealing with the after-effects and PTSD of being the sole survivor of a summer camp massacre. Melanie is a journalism professor whose career is not going how she wants. When a friend suggests writing a book about her experience, Melanie decides to travel back to Forest Grove to confront her demons and fears. Only, she never saw her demon die, and now he’s come back. As the secrets of Forest Grove are pulled into the daylight, Cyrus Hoyt comes back to finish what he started. Can Melanie take him down for good this time?
UNDER THE BLADE presents itself as a slasher. The killer, Cyrus Hoyt, is clearly modeled after Jason Vorhees but instead of a hockey mask, he wears a welding helmet. The first chapter is pure uncut slasher about the camp Forest Grove massacre and how Melanie survived. The next several chapters are set up for why Melanie goes back to the Grove, and it can seem like the story is slow and not living up to the promise of the first chapter, but the slow down is needed. Don’t be discouraged. The murder and mayhem is coming.
Let me tell you about Forest Grove. In response to the murders in the 80s, the Grove turned itself into the town from Footloose on steroids. The city has eliminated all gatherings of teenagers and most fun things because they are scared of the legend of Cyrus Hoyt. Hoyt is the boogie man in Forest Grove with parents telling their kids, be good, or Cyrus Hoyt is gonna getcha. The town is so well fleshed out it feels like a character in the book.
Serafini also does an excellent job with the actual human characters in this book. Melanie feels like a real person, and she doesn’t make outrageously stupid decisions. The supporting cast is just as well done. Nate and Trish Brady, the new sheriff of Forest Grove and his wife, play their roles well as do many others. Nate’s trying to navigate the internal politics with his deputies that feel he’s an interloper while keeping people from being murdered. Trish is working with local teens to gin up petition signatures to bring back school dances. It all comes together to create a wonderful portrait of a paranoid small town. When the murders start, I found myself shocked and upset about the inevitable death of certain characters. Kallie finished the book before me, and it felt that I was messaging her after every death saying, “oh no, not _______.” The climax of this book is wild, bloody, unpredictable, and everything that I wanted it to be.
I’ve always liked Matt Serafini’s writing and enjoyed his books but UNDER THE BLADE made me a fan. I’ll read whatever he writes, he’s that good. I loved that he took the slasher genre and subverted it in such a way that turned all my expectations on their head while simultaneously giving me all that I was looking for from a slasher story. I give UNDER THE BLADE a full 5 stars and my highest recommendation.
Matt is a middle school math teacher. He's originally from Kentucky but currently lives in Arkansas with his beautiful wife and 2-year-old son. In addition to reading dark fiction, he also enjoys board games and Disney World.