Marla by Jonathan Janz
Earthling Publications (October 2022)
SOLD OUT Limited Edition; $TBD Lettered Edition
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Another year, another home run for Earthling, this time thanks to the magic of Jonathan Janz. This offering is no different than any of the other great stories Paul Miller has unleashed unto the world of horror.
MARLA is a fascinating read that can be devoured quickly, but shouldn’t, especially if intriguing writing and deep characterization is your thing. In a year full of quality horror, it takes a massive work of art to stand out from the crowd.
The story grasps hold of the reader from the get-go, as the first victim is found driven into the muddy ground with a terrorized expression on his face. Enter Detective Carl Lancaster, a man haunted by the deaths of his wife and daughter in a tragic accident. The effects follow him through the novel, somehow connecting him with the titular character.
Marla herself is the enigma in the town of King’s Branch, a shut-in who nobody knows, nobody sees, and nobody ever speaks to. Her mother keeps her hidden from the wicked world, possibly because of a condition unknown to anyone, or for some other dark reason.
Yet she somehow is seen – outside of the house, walking the grounds nearby, appearing to troubled Dylan Ellison and Lancaster, the latter seeing her at every crime scene, as the murders grow in number and mystery. Social worker Annie Frost appears to be the voice of sanity in a town haunted by a history which is unraveling through the citizens who have been traumatized in some fashion. What’s Marla’s role in the murders? Who is she and why is she locked away from society?
Janz feeds the reader just taste at a time, whetting their appetites bit by bit as this mystery/horror story unfolds at a pace that feels both intense and measured.
As mentioned earlier, it’s the writing and characters elevate this story above many others. The reader is drawn into the lives of the three main characters with style and dread, with each character tearing away a layer of Marla’s mystery. Janz hides his cards well, unveiling the secrets through sleight of hand with great skill. At times, MARLA appears to be a creepy slasher novel, while at other points, something more supernatural, yet never losing sight of the mystery beneath it all.
If this is your first foray into Jonathan Janz’ novels, it’s a great place to start. Earthling has yet to fail in its offerings to its readers. Choosing Janz for this year’s holiday could not have been a better choice.
This reviewer will be traveling back in time to experience more of Janz’ special tales.