Book Reviews

World’s Scariest Places: HELLTOWN by Bates, Jeremy

Tragedy matures you, ages you, makes you wiser, and thus more cynical.

NO ONE LEAVES ALIVE

Since the 1980s there have been numerous reports of occult activity and other possibly supernatural phenomenon within certain villages and townships of Summit County, Ohio – an area collectively known as Helltown.

When a group of out-out-town friends investigating the legends are driven off the road by a mysterious hearse, their night of cheap thrills turns to chills as they begin to die one by one.

Oh my, after the thrill ride that was Suicide Forest, I was really excited to read a “proper” Halloween novel. The cast are med students and satanists that live in a ill-reputed town at the edge of the world. What I really liked is that none of the characters are dumb. Well, except Jeff who decides to play Chicken in a car while high on cocaine with 3 other people’s lives at stake and when the car he’s in crashes, he gets paralised and one of the other girls gets knocked out.

Jenny went cold. A traumatic brain injury. If it was indeed mild, she had nothing to worry about. But Steve had no way of knowing whether it was mild or not. It could very easily be moderate or severe. She could have intracranial hemorrhage or brain herniation, both of which could lead to disability or even death. She’d need a CT scan to determine the true extent of her injury. Noah and Austin, she noticed, had started working to get Jeff out of the BMW. Jenny said, “Go help them.”

Alongside the teens (or young adults to be more precise), we follow the story of Beetle, an ex-military, who comes to Helltown’s only hotel to commit suicide after going AWOL. The book is so moody and dark and the scenes are so scary, so thank you Jeremy Bates for making this a read with plenty of breaks!

The full moon hung in the black sky, a moldy white disc poking out from behind a smudge of dark clouds. It had started to rain, which had cleared away some of the fog, or at least thinned it, so he could see much of the forest stretching away below him.

The premise of the story is pretty simple. A Satanist circle living in Helltown have a method of attracting new sacrifices by driving tourists off the path and killing the men and kidnapping the “does” (girls) to sexually abuse them before sacrificing them on an altar. They have a ringleader who is a proper serial killer and his brothers (mentally retarded) and mute and one of the neighbours. They’re all in for the sex and power plays.

The “crop” this Halloween night is quite numerous – many men and pretty active women – all with strong wills and good heads on their shoulders – who think and make moves and mange to take some of the attackers out. One by one, they succumb to the evil forces. One is paralised and eaten by a snake alive. One is knocked out unconscious and is dreaming of his nana while he’s eaten alive by the second anaconda. One guy accidentally kills the neighbour’s kid and is then shot dead when the neighbour arrives. One manages to kill the neighbour but is subsequently killed in the scuffle afterwards.

A girl manages to run into the woods and hide. Another one is captured and beaten. The last one tries to escape through a window but falls to the ground and both her legs break.

And through it all, you’re reading thinking “OMG, what else could go wrong next? How can they escape? Will anyone survive? What’s the best survival strategy?”

Now, however, Cherry was no longer in control. Now there were no rules, and that terrified her like nothing else, because if Earl or Cleavon or Floyd wanted to fuck her, they would fuck her, they would fuck her and take her virginity, and they would likely kill her when they were done and bury her body in a shallow hole somewhere. Earl burped and scratched his groin. He reached into the cooler next to his recliner, retrieved a fresh beer, and twisted off the cap. Judging by the empty bottles on the floor next to him, this was his fifth one. Cherry didn’t think that would be enough to get him drunk. It would probably take ten or twelve to get someone his size drunk, maybe more than that. So it wasn’t likely he was going to pass out any time soon. It wasn’t going to be that easy to escape.

I loved how the author takes time to reflect on life in each of the victim’s last moments. These are young people with

Yet now, drifting in the void, Jeff understood how foolish and naïve his worldview had been. Because life was never easy, not for anybody. It threw you curveballs much more devious than Bernie’s had ever been. Models were disfigured in freak accidents, millionaires lost their millions in bad investments, celebrities had their deepest secrets exposed in the tabloids. People like Jeff, who’d won the genetic lottery, lost the ability of their legs and were fed to grotesque-sized snakes. If Jeff could have, he would have laughed at the absurdity of it all, and by “all” he meant life. But he couldn’t, his lungs were just about crushed to nothing, and as the blackness of unconsciousness and death closed around him, these last thoughts faded from his mind, and he let himself float and be.

The Satanic ring-leader, Spencer – has his own chapters – his early life and killings explained. He managed to avoid getting caught so far, but he’s made a few mistakes along the way – one of them was taking souvenirs from the victims – Polaroid pictures.

Spencer, on the other hand, indulged more than anybody ever knew. During his time in LA he killed seven women, while over the next sixteen years he killed dozens more, experimenting with everything from necrophilia to cannibalism to human sacrifice. What kept him from getting caught, he believed, were two simple rules: he never killed anyone he knew, and he never killed anyone in or around Summit County.

He gets caught when his wife accidentally knocks over an otoman which contained evidence of his killings and calls the police. But not before he manages to re-enact one last Black Mass in an abandoned church along with his brothers and in order to get rid of any trace – he chains the doors and locks them all inside to burn alive. When he gets home he is surprised to see the police waiting for him but instead of panicking, he manages to kill the cops, his “treacherous” wife and get out with his getaway cash.

The tale keeps twisting and turning – the ex-army man saves the people from the burning church and ends up fighting them when he realises that they were killers in the middle of the act. One of the brothers escapes in the car and manages to drive to Spencer and kills him just as he was trying to escape with the money. The brother takes the money – which is more than he ever made in his life and disappears in the wide world.

The ex-army man is declared a hero. The girl who escaped in the woods is found and hospitalised. The one that was the next sacrifice survives too, but the death count is huge.

I LOVED IT!

Solid 5/5 for horror and entertainment.

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