Chasing Ghosts, the latest horror novella from Glenn Rolfe, is a perfectly good read to while away a few hours with. I suspect, though, that I would have enjoyed it even more if had been expanded into a full-length novel.
The gist of this story is simple, and a common enough trope in horror stories - people getting mauled and killed by backwoods cannibal killers. It's familiar and doesn't exactly break new ground, and is essentially a cabin in the woods slasher movie in print form. I can generally accept derivative storytelling as long as it entertains and is at least well written. Thankfully, Chasing Ghosts succeeds in these two elements and provided me with several hours of enjoyment over a Saturday afternoon.
Novellas can be tricky things, though. They're longer than short stories, but not as long as novels. In my opinion, they work best when the focus is tight and centered on only a few characters in a small setting. There's an intimacy to novellas in the way they pack a powerful punch in a small package.
Chasing Ghosts, however, often feels like a much larger story struggling to fit into its confines. There's a lot of characters that we never really get to become deeply familiar with, and we're told all we're allowed to know about them almost as soon as they arrive on the page - Derek is a cheating husband, Mike's a good guy, Walt is the aging sheriff with a bad back, and there's a trio of punk rockers performing at a backwoods cabin party who are all pretty much interchangeable from one another. We don't get to know much about what makes these characters tick beyond these brief descriptors, which makes them easy, bland fodder once the killing begins. Unfortunately, we're given little reason to care. Some of these victims get particularly grisly treatment, and imagining the violence inflicted upon them is hair-raising enough, but I couldn't quite latch onto anybody in particular to root for or identify with. This book is all about the squirm factor. Characters are dispatched with frightening enough regularity to make George R.R. Martin proud, and the cannibal killers are a potent, if one-dimensional, force.
This review is perhaps overly critical and negative-sounding, although I actually did enjoy the time I spent with Rolfe's story. There are good ideas here, and glimmers of a larger story that really needed more time and space to develop into something stronger. As far as quick reads with a high body count goes, this fits the bill well enough. Chasing Ghosts is a fun, dirty piece of work that makes for a few hours worth of enjoyable escapism, despite lacking a tight narrative focus or rich enough characters to make a long-lasting impression. Rolfe clearly has talent, though, and he's an author I'll be keeping an eye on to see how he develops.