Review: ‘Psychopomp & Circumstance (Books of Nethermore #1)’ by Adrean Messmer

psychopompPsychopomp & Circumstance (Books of Nethermore #1) by Adrean Messmer
A Murder of Storytellers (April 2016)
186 pages; $9.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Josh Black

Psychopomp & Circumstance, the first in a series of standalone books, is Adrean Messmer’s first novel.

It follows a group of friends and “frenemies” somewhere between the carefree world of high school and the uncertainty of what comes next. Unfortunately for them, what’s going on in the present—and whether they’ll even live long enough to see college or careers take off—is just as uncertain. After one of them posts a Facebook update she has no recollection of, things get weird. People are missing. People are dying. Lurking somewhere around the periphery of it all is the Sewercide Man, a mysterious figure glimpsed only occasionally, but whose mere presence seems to bring chaos and have a disconcerting effect on the recently deceased.

It’s a bit of a struggle to get the characters straight at first. They’re all introduced quickly and the chapters alternate between each, told through first-person perspective. It doesn’t help that most of them are barely more than stereotypes. A few aren’t particularly likable at all (which, to be fair, is fitting with the ’80s and ’90s horror movies the book pays homage to). Stick with it, though, and you’ll realize there’s a reason for all of this. As past rivalries boil over and buried secrets surface, things become a lot more interesting. The twists come hard and fast in the third act, everything’s turned on its head, and a decent but not particularly lively plot becomes one that will have you turning the pages in a rush to see what happens next. It caught me off guard but I found myself wholly invested in the characters. It’s one of the most important things to me as a reader, as well as endings, and Psychopomp and Circumstance ended up being a wonderful surprise in both respects. Things conclude in an open-ended way that’s satisfying rather than frustrating, and leave just enough to hang on to till the next standalone book in the series is published.

As far as the mechanics go, the prose is tight, straightforward for the most part, with the occasional metaphor or simile that cuts right to the heart of the way a character sees things. The dialogue rings true. There’s a notable focus on color, like the world these poor souls populate is supersaturated with it. And poor souls they are. In true horror movie fashion, no one is spared. Sure, some characters don’t die, but everyone gets a heaping helping of Terrible Things thrust upon them.

More than an impressive debut, this is just a damn good novel. If you’re into teen slashers and want something with a little more substance than the typical fare, if you miss hanging with Buffy and the gang in Sunnydale, if you’ve ever wanted a story where Freddy comes to Fear Street, and you want all of this with a thoroughly contemporary edge, you’re going to love Psychopomp & Circumstance.

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