The immense potential and the inevitable growing pains of author Adam Cesare’s young career are both on display in The Summer Job, his upcoming (January 2014) novel from Samhain Publishing.
The Summer Job begins as most good Satanic cult novels do – with a couple of out-of-towners meeting a bad end after stumbling into a mysterious party in the middle of the woods. Despite this familiar opening salvo, it’s apparent early on that Cesare has more than the typical shenanigans in mind.
The Summer Job’s central character is Claire, a directionless girl who follows a help wanted ad to a quaint little hotel called The Brant in a quaint little town called Mission. Claire’s love life has hit a dead end, her relationship with close friend Allison is fraying at the edges, and she’s desperate for a fresh start. Her move to Mission gives her a new purpose, a break from Allison, and a new love interest in Tobin, a mysterious young man who spends much of his time partying in the woods.
As Claire settles in, she gets glimpses of the strange divide that’s splitting Mission’s scant populace. The younger citizens hang out in the woods with Davey, your typical slick-talking commune type. The older folks are beholden to Ms. Brant, Claire’s uptight, slightly sinister boss. These two factions have shared an uneasy truce for some time, but the tension is escalating and Claire – sleeping with a member of one side and working for the leader of the other side – is caught dead in the middle.
We’re used to seeing one cult bent on conquering the world, so pitting two cults against each other is a nice twist by Cesare. The author also does a good job of keeping us guessing as to which group poses the biggest threat to Claire.
The growing pains I mentioned earlier aren’t enough to derail the book, but they are glaring in some spots. Claire in particular is unevenly written, veering from shrewd heroine in some places to vapid victim in others. The way she falls into Tobin’s arms is troubling giving some of the things she sees him do, and her reactions to several disturbing events at The Brant are reminiscent of the kind of infuriating non-action we’re used to seeing in slasher flicks. On the flipside, Cesare’s handling of a mysterious, burned “dark priest” who lives at The Brant is excellent, and the reveal of his true role is a tragic highlight of the book.
The Summer Job as a whole is a risky bait-and-switch by Cesare, who knows full well what readers are expecting from a book like this and is determined not to give it to us. What you do get is a solid, well-written thriller that continues Cesare’s journey as one of the most interesting and promising voices in horror fiction today.
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.