Book Review: ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ by Stephen Graham Jones
Two years ago, author Stephen Graham Jones stormed onto the horror literature A-list with his book My Heart is a Chainsaw. This novel became a smash hit with both horror fans and mainstream readers alike. It’s success and appeal assured that it both won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel and was named to NPR’s Best Books of the Year list. With so much critical and commercial success it seems natural, that like the slasher movies Jones referenced, a sequel was greenlit. Taking place four years after the events of the first book, sees protagonist Jade Daniels return to her hometown and of course violence follows.
In the dead of winter in the small town of Proofrock, a town already scarred by the Independence Day Massacre, sadistic serial killer Dark Mills South has broken free when the police motorcade is taken out by a snowstorm. This coincides with Jade Daniels returning to her hometown after a long legal battle to prove her innocence from the events in My Heart is a Chainsaw. She is trying to grow up and put her slasher movie-fanaticism in the past, but when a hook-handed killer is loose, Jade has to step up to save her town once again.
The biggest part of the success of My Heart is a Chainsaw is the fact that Jade Daniels is easily one of the coolest literary protagonists of the past several years. A tenacious underdog with an obsession with slashers instantly made her a favorite among horror fans. This book sees the young woman having grown and evolved in ways that are expected and believable. When we last saw this Proofrock residence, she was a recent high school who was almost giddy that a real life horror movie scenario was about to unfold in her own hometown and she could mentor the popular Letha to be the final girl. Now she is a woman trying to be an adult, but who she truly is is lying right beneath the surface. As the body count piles up and the few people she cares about find themselves right in the path of Dark Mills South, Jade rediscovers her fire. In a sense she becomes the best version of herself with the wisdom of adulthood combined with the fighting spirit she had as a teen. No longer did she put Letha on a pedestal as a the destined Final Girl of the story, now she sees Letha as a partner in arms.
This new maturation and growth comes at just the right time as Dark Mill South is the stuff of nightmares. With the size and strength of Jason, the sadism of Freddy, and the resourcefulness of Michael, he is the peak of horror slashers. Early in the book, Stephen Graham Jones devotes an entire chapter to the evil he is capable of so we know from the start what danger everyone in this little down are in. This also allows Stephen Graham Jones to put his ability to write horror on full display.
While this Don’t Fear the Reaper may not be super accessible by those who skipped My Heart is a Chainsaw (in which case they can do themselves a favor and read that one) it is both a love letter to slasher movies but also a stellar horror story in its own right. By the time you come to the last page you will be begging Stephen Graham Jones to continue Jade’s battles against psycho killers.