Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Joyride by Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum frequently uses true crime stories as inspiration for his novels. Off Season is based on the legend of the Sawney Bean family, The Girl Next Door tells the horrors that befell Sylvia Likens and this novel, Joyride, is derived from Howard Unruh's killing spree. In Ketchum's afterword, he reveals that he found his story (and the story of Sylvia Likens) in Bloodletters and Badmen by Jay Robert Nash.

 Usually Ketchum's combination of real-life terror and an interesting "what if" scenario hooks me, but Joyride never grabbed my interest and is a mediocre effort from a usually amazing writer.

Carole and Lee planned the perfect murder of Carole's abusive husband. But they didn't count on a man named Wayne watching them. He doesn't want to turn them in or blackmail the couple. He mistakes them for being as sadistic and depraved as himself. What Wayne wants is simple: friends who understand his dark side and can indulge in it together.

The plot is more like that of a crime thriller than a horror novel. The story is told from Lieutenant Rule's perspective on the chase of the spree killers, and then Carole, Lee and Wayne's viewpoint in alternating chapters. And there isn't much gore - at least for a Ketchum novel.

It takes several chapters before anything exciting happens and even then the pace doesn't really pick up. There are a few more dull chapters, one action-packed chapter, and then back to the same tediousness. This formula is repeated throughout the novel.

The reason for my boredom is probably due to the lack of depth in the characters. Carole and Lee are fairly bland and hard to emphasize with. While the reasons behind Wayne's madness are never touched upon, he is merely crazy, end of story. Lieutenant Rule is an interesting and well-drawn character, but isn't featured in the story as much as Wayne or Carole.

But I didn't hate Joyride, although it may sound like I did. It's still a Ketchum novel, so it's well-written and the climax is exciting, but it still doesn't make up for the rest of the lackluster novel.

Rating: 3/5

This novel also includes the bonus novella, Weed Species, previously released in 2006 as a hardcover, limited edition from Cemetery Dance.

Weed Species is also based on a true crime story, this time on that of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo. This story still angers many of us Canadians especially since Homolka is now free and married with a baby although the videotapes found showed that she is just as depraved as Bernardo. And Ketchum's imagining of what happened after Komolka was released from prison is our worst fears brought to life.

 At a mere 86 pages, this novella still packs an enormous punch. Anyone who is familiar with the rapes and murders of Bernardo and Homolka will know the brutality and gore to expect. For those of you who aren't, I'll warn you that there is a lot of violence in this novella, including graphic rape scenes.

Although Weed Species is well-written, interesting and leaves you wanting more, it's so disturbing and graphic that it will have you questioning why you enjoy reading stuff like this. But it takes a great novel to give you that feeling, so I'll give it a 4. This bonus novella is far better than the main novel, so I would recommend buying Joyride just for Weed Species.

Rating: 4/5

Combing rating: 3.5/5

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