Horror authors all have their favorite subgenres, and I’d say most of them make at least one attempt during their careers to tackle them — to put their own spin on the types of stories that drew them to horror in the first place. The hard part is not allowing the “spin” to distract from the fundamental things that make those subgenres tick. Freshen them up, throw in a new angle, that’s great; but if they fail at the basics, the story itself is doomed to fail.
I don’t know what Matthew Weber’s favorite horror subgenres are, but I’m guessing “coming-of-age” and “slasher” rank pretty high based on Bobcats. As for getting the basics right….Weber does a damn fine job.
Bobcats is named for “The Bobcats,” a do-it-yourself scout troop created by Joey Kilgore’s father. Joey, still reeling from his father’s sudden death, is determined to go ahead with the weekend hiking trip his dad had planned for the group. It’s a rite of passage for all of the boys, but especially for Joey, who at 13 years old is trying to steel himself to be the man of the house.
Joey’s fellow Bobcats are all in, even though at least one of them is going to have to lie his way into the adventure. Like a lot of “coming-of-age” casts, several of Weber’s characters are grappling with the pressures of home. For example, Trainwreck’s dad is in jail, and Bubba’s real dad died in the Middle East, leaving him at the mercy of a step-dad who is, uh, a real piece of work. However, their own pressures aside, they know what this outing means to Joey, and they pull together to make it happen for him.
Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones planning a weekend excursion into the Alabama woods. A fella named Charles Daniel Nelson has gotten mixed up with some bad people, and part of the exit strategy offered to him involves escorting a “mountain-sized contract killer” known as Cleaver. Nelson drives Cleaver to a job, and it’s a gruesome one; when it’s done, there are bodies to be disposed of.
Naturally, the plans of the Bobcats eventually converge with the mission of the Cleaver…and I’ll leave the rest for Weber to tell.
For me, an aspect that an author has to get right in telling these stories is giving me characters I can invest in. In that, Weber mostly succeeds. The kids are likeable and relatable, and Weber takes time to flesh each of them out. When it comes to the killer, we get just enough detail — the handmade weapons, the pink toenails — to keep us intrigued. Fortunately, we’re spared the kind of over-complicated backstory that often spoils the killer’s mystique. The Cleaver is a force of nature, and the less we know about him, the better.
Less time is spent on Nelson, the Cleaver’s handler, and the character suffers for it. His job in the story is to get The Cleaver from Point A to Point B, and he does that, but he leaves the least impression of any of the characters in the book.
Bobcats is a good summer read. It slots in perfectly with those outdoor camp-set slashers people love to trot out this time of year. If you’re into fast-paced stories sweetened with tension, gore, and an unexpected death or two, you’ll do well to pick this one up.