Tim Curran is a favorite author of mine, so I was excited to get my hands on his latest offering from Darkfuse. A group of friends decide to take a shortcut on the way home from a concert, and suddenly find themselves in the town of Stokes – a town that doesn’t exist on any map anymore. It was destroyed in a fire decades ago. Unfortunately for them, it’s one that they can’t get out of, and they’re not alone. Shortly after arriving in the town, they meet their first deadly living doll. They go on the run, confused and desperate to escape from this town populated by dolls.
From the start there is a good slasher vibe as the six young college kids are being stalked and slowly picked off. They are a mix of mostly annoying characters including the jock, the geek, and the strong final-girl type. Ramona was the one really likeable character of the bunch. I did like that early in the book a cell phone was used and it actually worked- cliche avoided! Not that it did them any good. They get separated and we follow their battles to survive the inhabitants of Stokes.
Let’s face it, dolls are creepy – those lifeless eyes staring back at you. There are some genuinely creepy doll moments delivered in this book (and some genuinely creepy sex scenes). The gore is sporadic, but there are some gruesome and shocking moments that really deliver. Most of the characters find their own nemesis doll that stalks them, and these are good and interesting games of cat and mouse between the hunter and the prey. However, there is a whole lot of getting captured and getting away, again and again. The real highlights of the book are the not the dolls made flesh, but when Curran brings other things to life. There was a great scene where a car becomes flesh and a corridor full of eyes. This is far more interesting than the dolls.
The setting of the book, the town of Stokes, is like a film set, generic – an artificial view of idyllic American life in the 1950s. The artificiality is fitting for the life-sized dolls. All the streets look the same, with the same generic stores. While the setting is deliberately vanilla and bland, that unfortunately hurts the book. You don’t really get a sense of place, only the repetition. While this is no doubt designed to create a claustrophobic atmosphere and to emphasize that the characters are trapped, it gets boring. There is a lot of running. They run down generic streets. They run down generic corridors. They get separated and we get to read about them individually running. It was much too same-y. On the same theme of repetition, whenever one of the characters has a run-in with a doll we’re told about them being on the verge of losing their sanity, unable to cope with the experience and what they’re seeing. I lost count of how many times reference to that was made, and it was annoying. When so much of the plot is about generating fear in the people being stalked, it loses a lot when you just can’t care about them.
This is not the first time Curran has dealt with dolls, having previously written about a psychotic ventriloquist dummy named Piggy in the truly excellent Puppet Graveyard. After reading many of his other books, this felt a bit watered down in comparison. It didn’t pull me in and I didn’t care about the characters. They didn’t feel original or have much depth. It was all too repetitive. Although, I have to say that it did pick up in probably the final 20% of the book, but it was a bit too late to save the book as a whole. It may seem that I’m being overly harsh and negative in this review, which is not something I like to do. I just have such high expectations based on Tim Curran’s previous works and so this was crushingly disappointing.
Book Cover Blurb:
Six friends are returning home from a night out when they end up in a town called Stokes. They discover they are trapped there, as Stokes does not really exist. The actual town had burned to the ground more than fifty years ago. The Stokes they are in is a nightmare version of the former town, engineered by a deranged and undead mind, a supernatural machine of wrath that will destroy them one by one….unless they submit to its dominance and become living dolls.