Sometimes the line that separates horror fiction from crime fiction is paper thin. The two can share many elements, especially when it comes to characters: bad people doing bad things; good people doing good things; stupid people doing stupid things. Sometimes the only thing that pushes a book into the "horror" category is a supernatural element. Other times, there seems to be no concrete reason for choosing one over the other – take Robert Bloch's Psycho, for example, which was labeled as a "mystery" on its first edition dustjacket, but which most consider "horror" today.
The First One You Expect is labeled as a "crime" book, and it's published by a small press, Broken River Books, that specializes in crime. But I'm reviewing it for FEARNET because it revolves around the horror film industry, and it contains some pretty horrific scenes in its scant 100 pages. Plus it's written by Adam Cesare, who's already written some terrific horror – The Summer Job, Video Night and The Tribesmen – which means the horror community has dibs on him.
Tony Anastos is a cash register jockey by day and a low-budget horror auteur by night. He's developed a small but devoted fanbase, and even though he lives in his parents' basement and is far from what anyone would call a rousing success, he's yet to become completely jaded toward the industry. He's developed his own slasher series featuring a character called "The Debaser," and he and his friend Burt are deep in production on the latest installment when Anna enters their life.
Anna is new on the job at the Stop & Shop, and Tony is given the task of training her. She lights up when she finds out about his movies, and quickly proposes a new character – a female slasher she wants to call "Cat Killer." Her enthusiasm is infectious, and Tony is more than a little bit smitten with her. Before he knows it, he's more or less steamrolled into launching a Kickstarter for a new movie project. But it's not until the camera rolls on the launch video that Tony and Burt realize just how ambitious Anna is – and how far she's willing to go to make herself a star.
The First One You Expect is a lot like what I'd imagine a Tony Anastos film would be – grimy, bloody, and trimmed to the bone. Cesare isn't interested in pontificating on the nature of violence here, or on society's increasing indifference to it; his mission is to spin a story that's both engaging and economical, and at that he succeeds. He does a good job of fleshing out his characters and making sure you care about the consequences of their actions – such a good job, in fact, that it's almost detrimental to the book. By the time you really start to settle in with these characters the end arrives, and while it's a proper ending it does feel a bit rushed. That can be taken as either constructive criticism or a compliment, depending on how you look at it. Either way it’s a hell of a ride, and while I might grumble about how quickly it ended, you can bet I’ll be in line for whatever Cesare does next.
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.