Review: The Nightmare Girl by Jonathan Janz

The Nightmare Girl by Jonathan Janz
Flame Tree Press (February 7, 2019)
256 pages; $16.48 hardcover; $10.37 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Chad Lutzke

Jonathan Janz’s name is everywhere lately. With Flame Tree Press sneaking up out of nowhere and snatching his back catalog, and his most recent effort The Siren and Specter making the rounds of Twitter feeds and Instagram posts alike, he’s hard to ignore. It was only a matter of time before I broke down and read my first Janz. The Nightmare Girl was the book that deflowered this Janz virgin.

And we had a rather good time during that consummation.  

A man and his wife stop at a gas station to find a woman abusing her toddler. The man intervenes and this sets off a chain of events that slowly unfold to reveal cult happenings in the area.

The Nightmare Girl has all the elements you might expect from a stalker-type thriller: a driving agitation at the helpless circumstances the protagonist finds himself in and edge-of-your seat moments.   

One thing I enjoyed most about the book was Janz’s refusal to sway from the story in between chapters, where he could have hopped heads and explored other characters. Cliffhangers were tended to almost immediately and this kept me turning the pages. Too many books wander into unattractive territory where the reader is stuck reading thirty pages of uninteresting muck, wading through just to finally be rewarded back on land where life is good, answers are given, appetites are satisfied. Thank you, Jonathan Janz, for not teasing us but keeping us there on land and rewarding our eager eyes with what we really want. And thank you for those moments in the book where you had built so much anticipation I fought the urge to skip ahead just to see how things resolved.

Another highlight for me was the likable protagonist, Joe Crawford, whose dialogue and camaraderie with his Chief of Police friend was straight from the school of Hap and Leonard, so much so it felt like drinking straight from the teat of Joe Lansdale. With Joe Crawford, Janz created a role model of a man. Not a tough guy, but an empathetic, hard-working individual with strong morals who wasn’t beyond imperfections, whether it be a brief moment of lust, a temper, or selfish thinking. I saw a lot of myself in him and who I strive to be as a man, a husband, a father. And I suspect the author strives for the same, giving birth to this character.

A quick note on the prose. While Janz needs no lessons on creating a story, characterization, pacing, or plot, there were times I felt he didn’t trust the reader enough and chose to spoon-feed what we are supposed to feel and just how dangerous and a tense a situation is rather than relying on the tension he’d already expertly built. This happened often during some of the more thrilling scenes and for me sometimes killed the moment. Janz has the tendency to give the characters every thought instead of action, the show-don’t-tell rule being kicked to the curb. It felt like putting sugar atop a perfectly sweetened cereal, with the fear that the consumer might not taste the sweetness without it.

These spoon-feeding moments don’t bother every reader, I’ve found. Some people are perfectly content with gobbling up reminders—or I suppose some do need it spelled out—but I want to be trusted. Just point me toward the kitchen and turn the light on. I’ll find the silverware drawer. I’ll figure it out. Thankfully Janz does this sparingly, and by the time it starts I’m too engaged to lose serious interest.

The book was originally published in 2015 (recently picked up by Flame Tree), so I’m curious to see if Janz has dropped the bad habit because I plan on heading back for more.

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