The mixture of familiar tropes and unexpected narrative pathways is a weird alchemy that many authors are unable to conjure.
No one wants to read a predictable book, but they do come to horror with genre expectations that need to be filled. Lee Mountford’s Horror in the Woods nails the combination perfectly, pushing the sub genre of choice in a fresh direction while still delivering the gooey goods readers crave.
Ashley has invited her friends Kim and Craig to go on a camping adventure to get to know her new boyfriend Tim, who also happens to have experience leading long hikes. The other three are a bit skeptical of Tim’s chosen route–it’s long and more than a little creepy–but they decide to support him as he leads them further into the foreboding woods.
It’s not long before they make a gruesome discovery that threatens their safety and their sanity. Do they turn back or press ahead? Which decision will keep them alive? Or do they really have a choice at all?
There is a lot to like about Lee Mountford’s inaugural foray into fiction. His characters, though far from complex, are instantly relatable in a way that allows the story to push forward instead of languishing in lengthy and ultimately unnecessary development. The tone (and setting) is reminiscent of some of the 80s horror greats like The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a distinct flavor of A Cabin in the Woods. The plot is well executed, incrementally raising the stakes by putting the characters in increasingly impossible situations. But it’s the descriptions that really sing.
If you love talk of tearing flesh, chronicles of cannibalism, and descriptions of dismemberment, this book is for you. From the inciting incident on, nearly every page is filled with devilishly delightful gore. When it comes to writing about pain, Mountford has an impressive vocabulary, and readers reap the benefits at every clash of characters.
I must highlight the author’s near-perfect use of pacing. Mountford knows exactly when to have his characters do what. He knows when they should run, when they should pause to speak, and how long they should think and about what. Not once did I lose the thread has he wove a character’s inner turmoil into the action. This type of work is incredibly challenging. Mountford makes it look so easy that most readers probably won’t even notice this aspect of his impressive work.
There are a few bits of literary housekeeping that could use improvement. The book is riddled with an unbelievable amount of typos (“and” instead of “an”; “future” instead of “further”). While I totally understand typos are easy to miss after working on a manuscript for months, Mountford’s work is too good not to have a stronger editor in the future.
Hiring a good copy editor can be expensive, but it’s a necessary part of the process. Being an independent author is no excuse for typos.
Along those same lines, a strong editor could have helped with the use of words and turns of phrase that alienate the reader and create unnecessary distance. Adverbs like “seemingly” and descriptors like “she saw” get in the reader’s way, placing the reader one degree further removed from the action. Readers of horror don’t need to see the character seeing (“She saw a dismembered head roll across the floor”), they just want to see (“A dismembered head rolled across the floor”).
Horror in the Woods is the kind of surprising fresh take on a classic sub genre that horror novel junkies crave. I can’t wait to see what Mountford comes up with next.
Get a copy right here.