Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk
A Book Review by Rich Duncan
The first time I read Brian Kirk’s work was when Samhain sent me a copy of his debut We Are Monsters for review back in 2015. It was a whirlwind of psychological horror that absolutely floored me. I still count We Are Monsters as one of the best horror debuts I have read in a long time. Sadly, that book is now out of print, but I knew instantly that Kirk was a writer worth following. His ideas are bold and imaginative with a writing style that grabs the reader instantly. Another example of this is his short story, “Picking Splinters from a Sex Slave” from 2016’s Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. If you haven’t read it, definitely check it out. It’s the sort of story you’ll carry with you forever. So when I heard he was joining the Flame Tree Press roster with a new novel, I couldn’t wait to check it out.
Will Haunt You follows the story of Jesse Wheeler and begins with him performing with his old band, The Rising Dead, for the first time in over a decade. They were a cult favorite band and while they’re playing, the energy of the performance forces Jesse to remember his time in the band and he realizes he misses the feeling that comes with performing live. Instead of living the rockstar lifestyle he always imagined, a personal tragedy he calls “The Accident” forced him to change his life. Jesse now writes jingles for commercials and has somewhat settled into a normal life with his wife Cassie and son Rox. He feels guilty, but he can’t help but wish he could have that time of his life back, performing for crowds of rowdy fans. Despite leaving that lifestyle behind years ago, he’s disappointed that this was his last hurrah as a performing musician and feels the weight of this moment crashing down on him. By the time the show is over, half the people had already left, but none of that matters. He’s talking to his former bandmates who mock him for “selling out” and not trying to keep The Rising Dead dream alive.
It’s in that moment that Jesse realizes Solomon doesn’t seem to be himself. Jesse assumes he took something before the show, but he realizes in that moment that he needs to tell Solomon about the book he read. When Solomon asks him what he thought of it, he is puzzled by Jesse’s response at the mention of a girl. It’s almost like Solomon was suggesting that Jesse’s copy of the book was somewhat different. Solomon warns him to be careful, that “it” is still out there. Jesse shrugs this off as Solomon being under the influence and just trying to scare him. Caspian tries his best to keep Jesse at the bar, to carry the party well into the night, but Jesse wants nothing more than to go home. He manages to wrangle Caspian from the bar and into his car to give him a ride home. As they are cruising down the highway- Jesse listening to the radio and Caspian passed out in the passenger seat – the DJ begins a bizarre monologue. Jesse thinks nothing of it at first, just some half-awake DJ spouting nonsense. That is until he begins describing Jesse’s current situation. As the paranoia begins to wash over Jesse, he realizes that something isn’t quite right. Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning of what becomes a hellish nightmare that forces Jesse to confront the darkest moments of his life.
Kirk fills Will Haunt You with a vibrant cast of characters from illustrating how time caught up with his bandmates in The Rising Dead all the way through the bizarre people he encounters while fully in the grips of the force behind Obsideo. But where his character work shines brightest is when he focuses the spotlight on Jesse and his wife Cassie. Jesse goes through three phases throughout the story. There was his time living the rockstar lifestyle surrounded by booze and mistakes, his life after The Accident where he tries to live the sort of life he thinks he should lead, and then his transformation as he faces the guilt and demons of his past during the crucible he finds himself in post-Obsideo. By providing readers a view of these three phases of his life, it makes his redemptive arc more powerful. The scenes between Cassie and Jesse are fantastic. There is a lot of love there but also some baggage, and seeing those feelings come to the surface and how they work through them together makes for some captivating scenes.
Also, how could I forget the person – or is it something else? – that orchestrates Jesse’s torment. Besides his seemingly omnipotent nature, the thing that is so terrifying is the level of knowledge he has of Jesse’s life and the level of planning that goes into carrying out something like this. Every possibility is accounted for. A lot of the time in horror – with the exception of slashers or similar subgenres – the creature or entity rarely has such intimate knowledge of the main character. Will Haunt You‘s antagonist is the polar opposite. He knows everything about Jesse, almost to an obsessive degree. Combining that sort of threat with the moments where Jesse breaks the fourth wall creates a real sense of paranoia that carries over to the reader.
Structurally, Will Haunt You gets a bit experimental at times. The plot is mostly linear, but there are instances where the fourth wall is not only broken, but obliterated, dragging the reader into the story. In the hands of a lesser writer, these scenes could have caused the narrative to unravel, but Kirk manages to make them an integral part of the plot and keep reader’s engaged. There’s also some scenes where Jesse’s internal dialogue becomes garbled and there are numbers injected into the middle of words. At first it looks like a typo, but when you learn of the reasoning behind it and how it ties into the overall plot, it just oozes a weirdness that’s pretty damn unsettling.
Will Haunt You is a blend of psychological and cosmic horror, filtered through Kirk’s unique imagination. There are touchstones of these subgenres throughout the story to help tether the reader to something familiar, but make no mistake, Will Haunt You is anything but ordinary. Kirk immerses readers in a mind-melting nightmare world and unleashes a unique set of horrors. Without going into spoilers, one of my favorite aspects of the novel was that for the most part, the horrors were heavily psychological. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of action, violence, and the occasional moment of gore, but that doesn’t seem to be the focal point. Rather than traditional scares, Kirk builds a sense of existential dread that permeates every page of Will Haunt You once Jesse realizes this isn’t just his friends messing with him. There’s something terrifying about not being able to trust your own mind and what you perceive as reality. What’s real? Who can he trust? Why is this group messing with him? Those are just a few of the mysteries that make Will Haunt You such an addictive read.
Will Haunt You is expertly plotted and full of surprises. I won’t tell you what they are because that would spoil the fun, but Kirk hides Easter Eggs throughout the novel that adds multiple layers of enjoyment to the overall narrative. The two books are wildly different, but when I think about all of the tie-ins to Will Haunt You – from those hidden surprises to the viral internet-based Obsideo – I think of a more accessible House of Leaves. One thing is for certain, with Brian Kirk’s reality shattering Will Haunt You, he has cemented himself as one of the genre’s most exciting voices and I can’t wait to see what he has planned next.