When James Newman announced the release of his 80’s throwback The Wicked from Shock Totem Publications fans were in a frenzy. Newman has an established and loyal fan base among horror lit circles that continues to grow. He’s also exhibited a keen talent for nostalgic homage pieces like his 2010 head-nod to exploitation and Quentin Tarantino with Revenge Flick! (check out Pat Dreadful’s review here). But in addition his increasing following and a penchant for connecting with fanboy (and girls’) hearts, it was also Shock Totem’s magnificent paint and canvas cover art by Jesse David Young that had readers clambering for their copy.
In an age of generic digital-made covers typical of $0.99 eBook releases, Newman’s throwback cover left fans swooning over the novel like a high school crush. Sigh. The font, the old man’s evil eyes, the faux worn edges… there’s even a fake sale sticker on the back! It’s truly magnificent. Any grim reader worth his weight in paperbacks knows that you can’t judge a book by its horrific cover, so what about the insides? Are they as wonderfully gruesome as the outside? Short answer is yes. Six hundred and sixty-six times, yes!
The plot is simple. David and Kate Little suffer through the aftermath of a devastating tragedy, but when they find out they’re pregnant with their second child they make a big move from New York City to small town Morganville, North Carolina. They think they are making the right decision for their young Becca and the forthcoming addition to the Little family, but Morganville has its own demons. The consequences of the arson and subsequent deaths at the Heller Home for Children still haunt the town’s citizens. What people thought died with the home is waiting for its moment to claw its way out to the townspeople again with more power and vigor than before.
An ancient demon lurks beneath the town of Morganville, an unholy creature conjured into existence by the Heller Home tragedy.
Its name is Moloch.
It is hungry for the souls of the townspeople.
But worst of all, Moloch wants the children. It will not rest until it has all of them.
All of them.
Newman has all the right ingredients to make a successful nostalgia piece, but is innovative in his story development so this doesn’t feel like an overused plot device. There are a number of old horror tropes from our past to draw from – zombies, evil murderous teen-killing stalkers, killer bugs / animals / cars – but the ancient-evil-terrifying-a-small-town angle gives Newman more to play around with in terms of the back story.
Even though there are piles of horror titles with the ancient evil trope, it’s the driving force of the plot – the evil itself – that makes or breaks a story. And let me tell you, Moloch is one evil bastard. Moloch is disgusting, not only in form but his method of torment. I don’t think any book I’ve read to date has evoked as many audible exclamations of repulsion and disbelief as The Wicked.
This book has creepy insect/babies with stingers that are “bursting forth with sprays of thick mucus, those horrible barbs burst from the creatures’ insectoid rears in a grotesque sort of emerging.” There is also a drunk perverted Santa ala Billy Bob Thorton in Bad Santa except Newman’s dirty ole Saint Nick is a pedophile doing a demon’s bidding with a penchant for stalking little girls.
And then of course there is Moloch who is arguably one of the most disgusting faces of evil in the ancient evil subgenre. In one scene, Moloch converts another innocent to the dark side with an unexpected result:
“The man’s cold, cold fingers – fingers that were unnaturally long and spider-like – embraced the preacher’s head. Gently, like the touch of a lover.
Rhodes came in his trousers as the ancient thing’s mouth opened, and the darkness embraced him.”
Newman’s The Wicked burns evenly from start to finish. There are no lulls in the story or pacing. The content is consistently disturbing and perhaps at times the author is even trying to one up himself as we progress.
I would highly recommend this to any reader who is a fan of horror. But I think this is an essential read in particular for children of the 80’s who discovered their love of the macabre among piles of ragged paperbacks.