'Write what you know' the old codgers advise burgeoning writers when they start along the literary path. Scott Nicholson certainly 'knows' the Southern Appalachian Mountains and soon his name (if it already isn't) will be part and parcel with them as King is to Maine. In They Hunger, the Unegama River and its serpentine rapids are the centre-piece for a group of characters that meet under sinister duress - the kind that hides in darkness and feeds off blood.
I know Scott has a lot of professional admiration for Dean Koontz and this is reflective (not in stylistic imitation), but in the way he brings incongruent characters together and shoves them into a god-awful situation. In They Hunger, we have religious zealot abortion-clinic bomber Ace Goodall who flees to the Unegama wilderness in an effort to escape his pursuers. (Think Ed Deepneau from King's Insomnia with a Charles Manson twist). Riding shotgun with him is Clara Bannister, a self-destructive, semi-believer in Ace Goodall gospel. The seekers on his trail to bring him to justice are two FBI agents: Jim Castle and Derek Samford, hardboiled types from a thousand Cop movies. Not too far away are an odd assortment banded together for a collective agenda: to test flight a kind of prototype white water raft for outdoor adventure conglomerate ProVentures.
Regrettably, it was these particular characters on the raft that made me a little uncomfortable with the whole thing: Bowie Whitlock, who leads the expedition, is making his 'final jaunt' so he can retire because he blames himself for his wife's death. Such a back story felt modestly clichéd, and reminded me of a corny Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger. Then there's the solitary female of the group, Dove Krueger, contracted to photograph the voyage and create coitus longings among the males. Rounding up the gang are a wrestling Indian Cherokee on a spiritual path; a ProVentures representative; bicycling champion C.A McKay and slippery, vulgar-mouthed reality show winner Vincent Farrengalli. Their bad timing and lack of coalition will inevitably see them run afoul of ancient creatures, released from their prehistoric underground hideaway after the FBI agents accidentally set off a trip wire bomb engineered by Ace Goodall.
One could argue about the cardboard characters or not, but I found They Hunger to be an expedition certainly worth taking. Like his previous book The Farm, Nicholson gives you a kind of comforting horror tale; you'll feel that the terrain is well-mapped and the gore, when it comes, brings an almost malign grin to your face. His flying vampires are old-school and at times They Hunger can be like taking a trip down memory-lane - one where horror movies were in their infancy stage but at the same time at their peak. Humour is also a large component, as the battle of wills and ego merge with that of survival. Like the river he takes you down, Scott Nicholson’s They Hunger is a fun roller-coaster ride and the journey is at times hair-raising. Here, Vampires come back to the forefront of the horror-novel, and Scott Nicholson ultimately does it in style.