Written by: Matt Molgaard
F.M. Kearney’s They Only Come Out at Night is a creepy tale of subway murder and mayhem. Factor in a supernatural twist and you’ve got yourself a pretty compelling story. Living on the West Coast I don’t encounter subways all too often, but that doesn’t work at all to damper the fear that Kearney generates. This is a creepy story that’s bound to terrify anyone transferring from train to train en route to work and back. It’s unsettling and drives the paranoia mobile at a hasty rate.
Initially the opening of the novel left me somewhat turned off. The opening 30 pages or so call for full-fledged suspension of belief. After a 30-minute long robbery, beating, rape and violent murder, on a heavily crowded subway platform realism comes into question. Now, I understand that these kinds of things can and have – very, very – rarely occurred in the US, but it’s a pretty bold, near-unbelievable setup that forces the reader to embrace the most outlandish scenarios possible. However Kearney eases off supremely unlikely situation as such, and moves right into a tale that keeps the cauldron of tension boiling.
Melissa was being babysat the night her parents took that fateful subway ride. While her mother and unborn sibling were slaughtered, the old man made it out alive. For years he lived a broken lifestyle until one day he upped and took off, leaving a now-grown Melissa to find her own way in the world. And that’s just what she’s done. She’s living a reasonably successful life in New York when suddenly NY travelers begin popping up dead as a century old cliché in the subway systems, and Melissa’s dormant fears crawl to the surface. What’s worse, it seems someone is trailing her, targeting a new victim. Just as Melissa believes she’s traveled her final course on the subway, her father Matthew reemerges, out of nowhere. The two attempt to bond and close the lengthy gap they’ve spent apart, but it isn’t easy, and there’s something awkward about Matthew… the subway slayings seem to coincide with his return to the big city. Is there something the old man’s hiding, or has he arrived just in time to see that his daughter isn’t another subway statistic.
Kearney’s story focuses as much on familial relationships as it does the nefarious acts that take place beneath the city’s streets. The approach works rather well, and we’re given a nice strong buildup to a conclusion that – most – will likely predict by the midway point of the novel. The fact that outright grotesqueries aren’t afforded marquee attention is nice, and allows the reader to get to know the story’s pivotal players. And while I think a clean 50 pages could have been trimmed to create a faster pace tale, I’m not about to issue too many complaints as the ship isn’t sunk by wordiness.
Kearney is a polished writer with a knack for the big payoff. The final pages of the book are rather fulfilling, and the ascension to that point doesn’t let down. They Only Come Out at Night should frighten certain commuters and send goosebumps up and down the arms of anyone who can relate to the dreaded daily commute. The antagonists are eerie, and their unrelenting penchant for violence strikes a chord. Is They Only Come Out at Night a terrifying novel? No, I wouldn’t say so. I would however label it quite creepy and a damn joy to read!