I’ve never been all that big on camping. I don’t care for bugs, sleeping on the dirt sounds like a total drag, and if I had to catch my own breakfast I’d probably starve to death. But in J.A. Konrath’s Trapped, a 2010 horror novel that truly pulls no punches, these are the least of our heroes’ troubles.
Martin and Sara Randhurst run a center for teenaged scofflaws. It’s a caring, friendly environment the couple has established with the hopes of keeping youths along the straight and narrow. The kids are treated like sons and daughters by the two psychiatrists. They are loved and respected, while still undergoing proper rehabilitation, and at the same time, the couple gets to pursue their passion through social service. It’s a win-win situation.
That is, until the center shuts down.
Due to funding problems, Martin and Sara find themselves out of a job and some of the dysfunctional youngsters they’ve grown to love so much are now facing juvie and federal prison. To make matters even worse, it seems the Randhursts’ divorce may follow right on the heels of the center’s closing.
As a result, the couple opts for one last family jaunt with their troubled teens and hitches a boat ride up to Plincer’s Island – a secluded speck of land smack in the middle of Lake Huron. Perhaps this is just what the shattered group needs: good times about a campfire, roasting marshmallows and hotdogs and swapping ghost tales. Sara even tries to fool herself that the trip may help rekindle her foundering relationship with her husband.
But before Martin can so much as conclude his first bone-chilling story featuring the island’s haunted history, he is yanked from behind into the bushes. The group refuses to fall for Martin’s prank, believe he’s simply trying to pull their legs. His absence stretches, though, and a few of the campers finally get fed up and decide to search for him in the shadows beyond the fire.
From there the trip heads south. And I mean south. It would appear that the psychiatrists and their embattled wards are anything but alone on Plincer’s Island. Think ants can ruin a meal? Try enjoying your dogs and ‘mallows alongside feral cannibals, sociopaths, and one very naughty brain surgeon.
I liked Trapped very much. It’s a fun and leisurely read. My only real complaint is that the first third of the story falls a little flat, characters continually running about in the dark, searching for dropped flashlights, their fellow campers, and so on. Fortunately, the rest of the book totally makes up for this. The heroes become far more fleshed out. Character goals spur the audience onward. Colorful backstories make readers sympathize with the protagonists, abhor and fear the villains. And that is the true vein of gold in this story – the villains. Konrath does a bang-up job creating a host of outlandish antagonists, each more original and horrifying than the last.
A handful of small subplots are featured, though the main storyline is strong enough that it requires no assistance (Honestly, does someone being pursued by bloodthirsty cannibals have time to stop and ponder their relationship with their significant other?). Plants are well handled. No dreadful deus ex machina pops up and ruins the conclusion. Events transpire at such breakneck speed that, by story’s end, the reader will believe he’s just traversed a gore-laden waterslide.
J.A. Konrath has penned over a dozen novels, including seven in the Jack Daniels series, such as Whiskey Sour (2004), Fuzzy Navel (2008), and Shaken (2010). Stand-alones include Origin (2009) and Afraid (2008). His short stories number in the dozens. He is the recipient of numerous awards, like the 2006 Bob Kellog Humanitarian Award, the 2004 Derringer Award for Flash Fiction, and 2nd place for the 2005 Ellery Queen Reader’s Choice Award. He was also nominated in 2004 for the Macavity, Anthony, and Gumshoe Awards.
I won’t lie to you. Trapped is a knockdown, drag-out gorefest of a story that Konrath did not write for the faint of heart. However, if you’ve got the guts for evisceration, the cojones for castration, and the psychological fortitude for a little brain scrambling, then by all means, happy camping.
Trapped was published in paperback November 8, 2010 by CreateSpace and is 330 pages.Powered by Sidelines