Within one year, reports of several missing people took over the media. The victims, all had ventured to parts of the deep wooded countryside never to return. Rumors, posted from local townsfolk, of what might have happened to them caught the attention of the public. Some said the undead may have taken them. Others believed that quick changes in weather patterns played part in their disappearances. A survivor, the only witness, was committed for madness as her story went uncredited. Even though some information was strange investigators, family, friends and adventure seekers all looked into them finding nothing. The lack of any evidence baffled the minds of the people involved as they continued to search for answers. Among them, a young woman so obsessed with these stories in her past that her own nightmares become a reality as she stumbles upon unspeakable horrors playing out before her very own eyes. Are they made up in her mind? Are they a dream? Or is she next? Whether real or fantasy, a story was unfolding before her and she could not stop the images that played out as she confronts who or what was responsible for these individuals grotesque fate.
Can I just say that I am a HUGE fan of Krandall’s brain? For as long as I can remember, I’ve longed for a story to successfully execute a storyline with characters who’ve never met yet all existed in the same place together and Krandall did it! FINALLY!
Ground Zero: The Farm
In the introduction of the book, Krandall states that the inspiration for these stories was a farm that her family owns, and right there is the reality that terrifies us. Knowing the farm is an ACTUAL place, knowing it’s out there, we fear that it’s waiting to lure US into its death trap too.
The farm is the center of the entire story. There are four storylines, four separate groups of characters, that intersect at the farm itself. That in and of itself can be an easy task to pull off in writing so long as the farm is available to all those characters and so long as the timing is planned properly (which it was).
But what stood out in Krandall’s telling was the planting of details in one chapter and then the appearance of those same details in the next chapter. For instance, in the chapter “A Much-Needed Retreat”, Krandall mentioned Claire spotting an ATV on the road back and in the following chapter (which is a different story with different characters at the same farm), the band of friends mention as they’re hiking through the woods how there will be ATVs at their reunion. Right there, without any other context, Krandall earned her fear because we knew what happened to Claire’s family on that farm where the ATVs were found.
That connection happened several times throughout the book all the way to the end. And my goodness, the climax in Emma’s final chapter had me in awe that Krandall could so effortlessly stitch minor things into a big picture. That we knew who each of the dead were by their singular lines from the previous chapters…just wow. Well done, Krandall!
Simple Yet Effective
The suspense and simplicity of the horror was refreshing to say the least. Often times, horror authors think gore, blood and brutality equal fear. But a great horror author knows it’s in the snapping of twigs and the running of footsteps and the sense of being watched that successfully build on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense. And Krandall’s one of those great horror authors.
This scene especially got me:
“The only reply was a strong gust of wind that kicked dirt and leaves up into my face. As I raised my arms to protect my eyes, I heard a faint sound of quickly moving footsteps off in the distance. They seemed to be running toward me…” (page 74-75)
Now tell me that isn’t terrifying? Claire’s standing dead center of the woods while experiencing this. Her husband’s just wandered off and isn’t responding, she senses she’s being watched, and she’s already creeped out by the “man” her daughter supposedly saw in the trees earlier. See? Gradual build to a perfectly executed scene of suspense.
In as few Words as Possible
Fear Farm is less than 200 pages, and to cover as much ground and do it as well as Krandall did is deserving of praise. Without lengthy backstories for the characters, she made us fond of each one of them. Descriptive language was brief yet vivid. A lot of times authors think lavishing their story in details provides a clearer picture or induces more emotion. Krandall not only understood that less is more, but let her talent shine through brevity and made it look EASY.
One thing you never see in horror is the tragedy of the lives lost. A horror movie or novel is mostly effective because of the body count. But Krandall doesn’t need to slash through an entire party of teen kids to arouse fear in us. She does it flawlessly through suspense and through the killer’s experience as a murderer.
So to genuinely mourn the characters who died throughout the book was a whole new level of horror for me. Bri’s ending was one of the most heartbreaking because she was young and we were aware of her youth the whole story. But it packed that punch because she’d made it HOME. And then in Steve, Drew, Chris and Ashley’s story, the WAY these friends died after we’d become attached to them was painstaking. To have loved and lost these characters and FEEL that, I think that’s exceptional writing.
Krandall left a lot of the answers in the book open-ended. Those possibilities left me hungry for resolution. If there were a sequel where I knew I would come to full understanding, the unsolved aspects of this book would be accepted. But this book is a stand alone as of now, and so not understanding what happened to Emma on the train or Steve in the woods, or how other customers in the diner didn’t see the villain just doesn’t make sense.
I have never read horror like this, and am thrilled to have discovered S.J. Krandall. I’ll be keeping a close eye on her, consuming everything she creates because WOW. Fear Farm: No Trespassers was unforgettable!