Die, You Bastard, Die! is (in case the title didn’t tip you off) an uncompromising, down-and-dirty revenge tale that would be right at home as part of a double bill in a 1970s-era grindhouse theater. Pair it up with something like I Spit on Your Grave and you’ve got yourself a night filled with women doin’ harm to the men that did them wrong.
Except, of course, Die isn’t a movie – it’s a book, part of the initial wave of titles from Ravenous Shadows, John Skipp’s imprint specializing in short, impactful novels. Like the other books Skipp has released as part of this line (Tribesmen by Adam Cesare, House of Quiet Madness by Mikita Brottman, and The Devoted by Eric Shapiro), Die retains a cinematic energy that fairly spills out of its compact package.
Claire is a paramedic, a woman with a tough-as-nails demeanor and a difficult past. That past comes calling out of the clear blue one day in the form of childhood friend Olivia, who tracks down Claire to let her know that Claire’s father is in the hospital. He’s taken a bad spill and is going to be laid up for a while, a situation which Olivia feels the two should take advantage of. It seems that both of these women have issues with Benjamin Valentin, and he may have finally left the door open for them to exact some much-needed retribution.
Benjamin’s a seedy guy, the owner of a little slice of hell called The Fish Camp. It’s a place that masquerades as a summer camp for kids, but in reality it’s been the base of operations from which Benjamin has spent decades indulging his unsavory tastes in young girls – including his own daughter. Olivia is a former victim, too, and when Claire arrives she lays out her plan to get them back in the old man’s life so they can turn it upside-down and inside-out.
The scheme the two cook up begins to fall into place, and at first it seems (to the reader, at least – Claire seems too swept up in the events to notice) that things are coming together a little too easily, too conveniently. Fortunately, right around the time you reach that conclusion, author Jan Kozlowski tosses a curveball. And then another. And another. The story is still somewhat predictable, but the twists and turns make it a fun ride regardless.
Like the B-movies it seems hell-bent on emulating, Die, You Bastard Die! is a little skimpy when it comes to characterization. Of course you barely have time to register this as Kozlowski ladles on the shocks (and schlock) – the middle portion of the book is mostly concerned with a graphic campaign of torture and abuse above and beyond what most people could possibly endure. One character in particular is subjected to a punishment that made for one of the most uncomfortable reading experiences of my life. (That being said, this character deserved every second of it.) I think the lack of fully realized characters hurts the book in the end, as what should be a cathartic experience falls a little flat because we don’t have a lot of emotional investment in the people involved.
That being said, Die is tailor-made for readers with a taste for the kind of exploitation thrills that are hard to come by these days. It’s a quick read, but while it’s got you in its grip it holds on tight.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.