The Unhinged by David Bernstein
Samhain Publishing (November 2014)
226 pages; $14 paperback; ebook $5.50
Reviewed by Damon Smith
In some ways reading David Bernstein’s The Unhinged reminded me a lot of Brian Keene’s The Rising; not in themes or setting, but in terms of emotions the book got out of me. I felt emotionally drained after finishing The Unhinged. While Keene’s zombie magnum opus earned that emotional drainage on me with character development and interesting plotting and twists in its respective genre, The Unhinged is merely an unpleasant slog at best.
After being released following a six-year stay in prison for robbery, Aaron Dupree is ready to turn his life around. Following a speeding ticket – a parole violation – he is blackmailed by a cop into an escalating series of horrible events, starting with another robbery. Things only get worse for Aaron from there, dragging those he cares about most into the web of horror.
Now, I will give Bernstein this, there are some interesting twists here and there that separate it from the bevy of books and movies with a similar plot, especially in the first act. This helps the book get off to a decently-paced if pedestrian start, and a twist near the end is especially good at turning the story on its head. However, the plot as a whole is nothing special. Almost all of the characters are rather flat, which really makes the horror in the story lack weight beyond the superficial shock factor.
Even recommending this book to fans of gore authors such as Edward Lee is difficult as gory scenes are actually few and far between. The scenes that happen are well-written and suitably gruesome, but there are only three such scenes in the whole novel, and one only lasts for a page. In fact, the only scene that comes close to what I’ve read of Lee’s work comes in the very last pages of the book. Worse, the plot between these scenes really doesn’t offer anything entertaining in terms of character interactions or set pieces or even much tension. After the first act settled down, the story began to drag and I had to force myself through entire chapters in hopes that the plot would get a bit of a pulse. While it does get a bit better towards the end, by then the damage is done and the plot just kind of peters out into a puddle of splatter and gore.
It’s very hard to recommend The Unhinged to anyone. Gore fans will be disappointed by the long stretches between the gory scenes and everyone else will be turned off by the slog of a plot and uninteresting characters. It’s purely superficial horror, shock value for shock value’s sake, and not even that much of it beyond the purposefully bleak ending and middle stretch. You feel no connection to these characters so you feel nothing but a pure gut reaction bred from shock to their suffering, nothing deeper than that. While some gore fans starved for new material from their favorite authors in the genre may enjoy a read-through to tide them over, I cannot see even them going back for a second read.