Review by Brennan LaFaro
Every Halloween, horror fans rejoice. For many, it’s to celebrate the spooky season, as the time of the weirdos arrives. But there’s another great reason to get excited. Earthling Publications limited Halloween hardcovers! Last year’s entry, Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi, was one of my top books of 2021. It will, deservedly, be released by Tor Nightfire in 2023. Where to go from there?
The master of the macabre, of course. Nary a horror subgenre exists that Jonathan Janz has yet to put his spin on. Small-town murder mystery might be the closest one can come to nailing this book down, but it’s not that simple or straightforward. Marla has notes of a slasher, but with a larger looming element of supernatural secrecy.
Where Janz shines is in keeping the reader guessing. Marla revels in a quality that keeps its audience slightly off-kilter throughout the runtime. The story is told through multiple points of view, each one providing a different look at the unsettling events transpiring in King’s Branch, then moving on before allowing the reader to dig their heels in and gain firm footing. The balance of POV’s is also a strength. Janz manages to create the aforementioned tension through movement while still allowing us to get to know Dylan Ellison and Detective Lancaster, sprinkling personality and characterization in without distracting from the linear narrative.
The characters matter, therefore the stakes matter. This pays off in spades during act three when the author ties all of the dangling threads together. Jonathan Janz crafts an ending that is ambiguous enough to keep the reader thinking after the story ends, but also satisfying enough to say “That was a hell of a book.”
Earthling Publications and Jonathan Janz have both done it again. Marla is a hell of a book.
Pre-order the book here.