Title: Willow Man
Author: John Inman
Publisher: DSP Publications
Pages/Word Count: 336 Pages
At a Glance: Though unevenly paced, this book turns the unusual into the horrific
Blurb: Woody Stiles has sung his country songs in every city on the map. His life is one long road trip in a never-ending quest for fame and fortune. But when his agent books him into a club in his hometown, a place he swore he would never set foot again, Woody comes face to face with a few old demons. One in particular.
With memories of his childhood bombarding him from every angle, Woody must accept the fact that his old enemy, Willow Man, was not just a figment of childish imagination.
With his friends at his side, now all grown up just like he is, Woody goes to battle with the killer that stole his childhood lover. Woody also learns Willow Man has been busy while he was away, destroying even more of Woody’s past. And in the midst of all this drama, Woody is stunned to find himself falling in love—something he never thought he would do again.
As kids, Woody and his friends could not stop the killer who lived in the canyon where they played. As adults, they might just have a chance.
Or will they?
Review: As soon as this book came up for review, I grabbed it. I have read and enjoyed almost all of John’s books over the past few years, and was dying to read this one too. I do not have a horror background, mystery/ suspense type books are my norm, but I loved Head-On and A Hard Winter Rain, so I figured I could handle the change of genres by one of my favourite authors. His characters are always quirky and extremely well defined, and the settings for his stories are vivid; be it a mountain, farm, or a rooming house, I can always picture exactly where the characters are and their surroundings.
In Willow Man, Inman does this very well indeed. I can clearly see the dreaded canyon, dark and full of scrub, trees and rock. I can picture Woody’s house and the backyard and even his Mother’s roses. Woody is the MC of this book, and most of what we see is from his POV. He is a musician who is returning to his childhood home for the first time in a dozen years. He left his home after his parents were murdered, and took his music on the road; he struggled with drugs and cleaned himself up, and now has hopes of breaking through with his music, with a couple of shows he will perform in his hometown. But Woody had more than just his parents’ death as a reason to avoid his home, and we are introduced to the cast of characters through recurring flashbacks to Woody’s 13th year, and the summer it all went wrong.
Willow Man was scary for thirteen-year-olds, but the true scope of its evil nature is unveiled as the intervening years are played out with the adult Woody and his best friends. The group of 5 kids have a very close and dynamic relationship that John explores fully. The blindness of acceptance that kids have for one another is tempered through hindsight to the youthful yearnings they each had, and is an added layer to the traumatic events they survived. The scene where Woody and Chuck seek to draw out the Willow Man, while riding Woody’s bike double, is so real and vivid that a week later I can still see it clearly in my mind. John’s ability to paint a scene with words is enviable and a true talent that shines in this book.
A good portion of the success of a really scary horror story comes from the constant build up of dread that an author creates, and John does this well many times in this book. For me, though, the timing and/or pace was off somehow. It seemed that just as I was totally involved and full of anticipation, the story switched from past to present, or vice versa, and then the tension had to be rebuilt. It created a lag for me in the flow of the story, and I found it to be a slow read and a lot to absorb.
This is not a book for the faint of heart, as it is a dark and tangled read, with lots of blood and gore, and a sexual predator twisted into the plot. The idea that sparked this tale—a plane crash that John actually witnessed—is gruesome with possibilities that he takes great advantage of. It is typical of horror to turn the unusual into the horrific, and this he has done very well.
You can buy Willow Man here: