Written by: James Keen
“I’d say you’re stretching it a bit.” – Matt Hults. ‘Husk’.
There’s a foreword to Matt Hults’ ‘Husk’ that outlines what you should expect from his first novel, understandably praising the text but it’s not an entirely accurate snapshot of what you’re about to read. Some have compared this book to others that arguably share its pulp sensibilities. First and foremost, this is an old fashioned pulp horror novel -with all that that entails. What it most certainly is not is a piece of ground-breaking horror fiction with the delirious resonance of something like Joe Lansdale’s ‘The Drive-In’. What you do get here is a familiar mish-mash of genre staples, buckets of gore, some warped humor – though some of it is arguably unintentional- and a narrative that seems to be attempting to supersede the chapter count of an average James Patterson pot-boiler which is probably an especially attractive proposition for readers with a limited attention span.
‘Husk’ opens promisingly enough with a police siege on the home of a suspected serial killer named ‘Kale Kane’ -“this psycho is one slippery son of a bitch” as he’s described by one character, a gruesomely inventive murderer who appears to have much more arcane interests than the average sociopath. After the initial blood-letting and violence are over Hults skips forward five years and the narrative takes up the story told largely from the perspective of the Wiess family, but it isn’t long before the author begins to widen the novel’s cast of characters.
Using the standard pulp archetypes of the haunted middle-aged detective, Hults gives us Frank Atkins, a man plagued by his experiences of dealing with Kane who has now gone to ground after apparently vigorous public outcry, “the local press seemed ruthless about smearing his name”. Frank is suddenly shocked out of his self-imposed morose and introspective circumstance by a new investigation taken up by the young female detective Melissa Humble, who is seeking a connection between a fresh spate of inexplicably odd and violent murders . Throwing in a teen-aged romance between an awkward nerd, Tim and his popular amour, Mallory Wiess and sundry other sub-plots involving divorce, romantic rivalry and ritualistic human sacrifice, Hults’ tale sports characters are somewhat one-dimensional and I hope I’m not doing the writer a disservice here in suggesting that that was the author’s intent. This comes across as a narrative that owes more to cinematic fare than literary antecedents in the horror genre; there’s recognizable visual echoes of movies such as ‘Night Of The Creeps’, the remake of ‘Slither’ and Dan O’Bannon’s blackly comic ‘Return Of The Living Dead’, coupled with more than a few nods to Clive Barker’s movie version of his own novella, ‘The Hellbound Heart’, all of which hopefully gives you some idea of the overall tone here. Hults appears to be aiming for a delirious amalgam of what we’ve seen and read many times before. As a celebration of those horror standards the author has succeeded in developing his own iteration of those pulp concerns and there’s a great deal of fun to be had from racing through Hults’ set-pieces, but -apart from one singular horror jolt this reviewer experienced involving a night-time investigation of a homestead- a frightening read it certainly is not.
If you like your horror fiction slickly written, amusing and gorily inventive then this is a winning proposition, but if you want a reading experience that doesn’t feel predictable and contrived then this is perhaps not for you. Hults is an entertaining writer but the overloading of archetypes and plainly obvious character manipulation here is its downfall if it’s intended as a work whose design is to terrify and unnerve.
Order Husk right here.