Tuesday, November 1, 2016

SUNBLIND by Michael McBride

There are tried-and-true, heavily-used conventions in horror fiction, elements like darkness and the cold and snow. They've become things that we equate with atmospheric creepiness, trembling, and goosebumps. But here, Michael McBride skillfully uses bright sunlight and intense heat to instill more terror than most of the horror fiction I've read. Here, it's all about sunburn blisters, and not being able to blink because your eyelids are too dry,
The novel opens with an ace Border Patrol agent discovering the body of a Mexican woman in the middle of the Sonoran desert, a woman that's carved a cryptic message onto her chest. Along with a couple of his fellow agents, he sets out into the desert night to find out what happened to her and her fellow companions trying to cross the border. In a parallel story, the book follows what happened to the travelers from the woman's point of view and we discover the true horror of what happened.

It's a totally ingenious concept, that not only tackles the topical subject of illegal immigration but shows the absolute horror of walking across the hot desert with limited resources. Intense heat from which there's no escape or relief, dehydration to the point where you can't even sweat or cry anymore, snakes, hunger, the cartels and their narcos, and the truth about what you would really be willing to do if you were thirsty enough; just these elements alone and the way that McBride uses them are enough to make a pretty effective scary book. But as if that wasn't enough already, he takes it a step further and ups the ante considerably by introducing a terrifying creature that hunts the group in the middle of all this as they try to make their way through the desert.
The day was not even half over and already I was no longer praying for the sun to set, but for my death, when it came, to be swift and merciful. 
I also really loved the novel's structure, cutting back and forth between the border agents' nighttime search and the first-hand account of what happened. The parallel stories work in tandem, each informing the other and raising the tension in each section even more. And McBride doesn't pussy out and hold back on the horror. There were many times here that my skin crawled and my mouth dropped open because I couldn't believe that this was all happening! And McBride does a great job with detailing the characters as well, especially our main heroine, but also all of the supporting cast as well, even though most of them remain nameless. I noticed a few editing mistakes, but it was a great read for October, one of the best written horror novels I've come across, and definitely the best book I've read from DarkFuse.

It was the smell of death, a death for which I had far too recently prayed, but one I now knew I wanted no part of, an abstraction made far too real. I refused to die in this place. Not down here where my soul would forever remain outside of the reach of God, destined to wander the darkness, holding the hand of La Santa Muerte.

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