Sometimes, in the genre of horror, a reviewer stumbles upon a dark, glistening vein in the granite of horror. Maybe the reviewer reads a book from a specific indie press and enjoys it so much, they find themselves reading other books they have to offer. Or maybe the reviewer finds an author and they run in a circle of like-minded authors who do collaborative work—so the reviewer finds not just one new favorite author, but several!
I found Aaron Dries in one of the aforementioned dark veins in the granite. Being the excitable and curious reader that I am, I bought myself some of his books. A Place for Sinners entices you with an intriguing premise; boiled down it amounts to the simplest of tropes: A traveling experience to the jungles of Thailand goes terribly wrong.
But what I thought I was signing up for is not at all what I experienced. No, my friends…this novel is so much more than I bargained for.
The reader is invited to go on a journey with the main protagonist, Amity Collins. It is Amity we first read about when she’s only seven years old, and it is Amity the reader will feel most at home and at ease with. Several other characters will travel in and out of the narrative, bringing with them their own, unique POV, but the reader won’t desire to live there. It was refreshing to me to discover that the author knows that.
Aaron Dries gave me a home base, a safe place in Amity Collins. This is important because there are characters in this book that are unsafe. Dangerous. Horribly, horribly disturbing people. I was struck multiple times, almost like a slap in the face, with Dries’ unflinching prose.
There is one line that is so messed up at its core, and delivered with such casual elegance, that I almost missed it until it started glowing in my brain like a neon sign and I was forced to go back and read the line again. I would gasp out loud, “What?” My eyes would dart back and forth, reading that one line over and over—trying to wrap my mind around it—but such evil utterances don’t give more details or explanations. They just are what they are and they stick in your side like a thorn. As I went deeper and deeper into this book, I became a collector of these painful thorns.
What begins as a cathartic adventure to Thailand for Amity and her brother Caleb comes apart at the seams, ultimately ripping open into sheer madness. I’m not exaggerating when I express to you that A Place for Sinners is one thousand different ways to be scared. Everything from wild animals to insects and sociopathic serial killers to isolation. Aaron’s wheelhouse is submerging his reader into the atmosphere of his novel—in this case, a suffocating jungle setting—while simultaneously preying on your worst psychological fears. Needless to say, I was anxious and unhinged emotionally the entire time I read this book.
My only real criticism is that some of the action sequences were disorienting. A few times there were two POVs in dueling streams of consciousness and it was difficult for me to find my footing and understand what I was reading. I longed for a reliable narrator to swoop in and give me a logical telling of what was happening. But again, that speaks to the full submersion the reader experiences—almost drowning in the dark prose and chaos.
It’s my recommendation that if you are a seasoned horror reader looking for something unusual that will knock you on your ass, this is the book for you. I promise that you haven’t read anything like this story, ever.