FACE THE NIGHT
By Alan Lastufka
Cellar, Ohio, 1987. Adriana is a tattoo artist and broke single mother who’s putting her life together in the wake of a bad relationship with a drug-addicted ex-boyfriend and a custody fight with her own father over her young son. She’s landed a promising career as Cellar’s first police sketch artist and has discovered in herself a gift for creating picture-perfect renderings of faces she’s never seen. Adriana’s hopes for a brighter future turn nightmarish, however, when she starts drawing horrific portraits of a dead, eyeless face—a face that begins to haunt her nightmares.
Small towns are evergreen fodder for dark suspense tales. From Nancy Drew mysteries to Twin Peaks, readers never tire of the dark appeal of pulling away the folksy veneer of friendly neighbors and white picket fences to reveal the maggot-infested rot underneath. Alan Lastufka’s supernatural horror-mystery FACE THE NIGHT walks a well-worn path with its story of murder and political intrigue in a sleepy little Ohio burg. Still, it invigorates its familiar premise with craft and authenticity. Weak horror writing usually fails to engage because most of the writer’s work has gone into conjuring up a frightening premise, leaving characters as little more than pieces to be shuffled from point to point through the plot. It’s hard to feel afraid for our protagonists when readers have little emotional stake in their welfare. Lastufka, thankfully, delivers on that front. Well before the plot fireworks start, we’ve spent time getting to know Adriana and her struggle to care for her son while dealing with a grifting ex and a domineering father (who also happens to be Cellar’s mayor). The author’s ear for realistic dialogue and eye for just the right details elevate what could be stock characters into believable people. For instance, Matt Hinkley, a kind young police officer who becomes Ariana’s love interest, is the type who’s rarely presented as more than a blandly heroic plot device. Here, readers get to know his motivations and quirks, making Hinkley feel like a layered, genuine person. Even the town’s odious mayor, Bradley Krause, is given more life than your typical villain, with complex motivations and a vulnerability that makes him oddly sympathetic.
Studded with references to Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, and Ghostbusters, the novel’s 1980s setting—like a grown-up version of Stranger Things—feels authentic and personal, as does Lastufka’s evocation of the culture and provincial drama of a small Midwestern town. The plot is very much a slow burn, but the work Lastufka puts into creating a believable world and true-to-life characters pays off when the darkness lurking at the story’s edges finally comes crashing to the fore. Lastufka weaves together the novel’s plot strands—the mystery of Adriana’s visions, Mayor Bradley’s political machinations, the fate of Adriana’s ex-boyfriend—with brisk pacing and a lean, economical style that keeps the action moving towards its violent and genuinely shocking, conclusion.
FACE THE NIGHT is an unexpected pleasure, recalling the down-to-earth storytelling craft of Jack Ketchum and the earnest sympathy that Dean Koontz inspires for his characters. A compelling blend of small-town mystery and supernatural horror, the novel succeeds brilliantly on both fronts.
~Edward Sung for IndieReader
FACE THE NIGHT
By Alan Lastufka
Alan Lastufka’s FACE THE NIGHT is a gripping, atmospheric novel driven by an intriguing protagonist, and littered with a cast of enjoyably sinister characters. The blistering pace and original storyline produce a nail-biting and engrossing read, that effectively combines supernatural horror with paranormal thriller.