In Those Across the River, ChristopherBuehlmann gives us a straight-up horror novel. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t read much horror; usually it is too grisly for my taste. The descriptions of this novel intrigued me for some reason, so I took the chance. During the Great Depression, Frank and his girlfriend Dora are looking for a new start, and Frank is conveniently left a house in a small Georgia town (which his deceased aunt begs him to sell, not inhabit). The first clue that something is really wrong, of course, is that Frank and Dora are adulterous, since Dora was married when she fell in love with Frank. Although they appear in town as a conventional married couple, they are not yet wed. Dora has been hired to teach school, and Frank, a historian by profession, plans to write a book about his ancestor who had a plantation across the river. Stories of the ancestor’s cruelty to his slaves continue to this day.
As they become more a part of their new town, Frank and Dora are surprised by the monthly ritual of sending two pigs (complete with flower garlands around their necks) across the river. The pigs have never been seen again, although two pigs a month should have produced a thriving colony of wild boars. When the town votes to stop the monthly tradition of sending the pigs, the trouble starts.
I received this book from Netgalley as a review copy. It was a good “starter” horror novel, as the horror built up gradually, and the grisly descriptions were (to some extent) restrained. By the time things really get rocking in the horror department, the reader is hooked on the story and willing to put up with the gore in order to find out what happens. Typically, the protagonists make mistake after mistake, as they ignore warning signs until it is way too late. The only thing that irritated me about the writing was the repetition of certain phrases. These would first come up in a non-threatening situation, then the narrator (Frank) would repeat them in his head at various times as he remembered something about the situation. The phrases didn’t seem all that sinister, and the payoff wasn’t quite there when the phrases were repeated during the climax of the novel.
All horror books are sick, and this one is no exception, though perhaps it is less sick than most contemporary horror. Nonetheless, the story pulled me through, and for a couple of days, this was the book I couldn’t put down. 3.5/5* (would be higher if I enjoyed horror J)
Article first published as Book Review: Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman on Blogcritics