This book was kind of like Diet Stephen King: no calories, half the flavor. Jonathan Maberry apparently scripts comic books too, and that was apparent in the melodramatic prose and the prolonged fight scenes in Ghost Road Blues
Thirty years ago, the small town of Pine Deep was victimized by a serial killer in what became known as the Black Harvest. A bunch of redneck cops killed the man they believed responsible, an itinerant black guitar-player known only as "the Bone Man," but in fact the Bone Man had already killed the real killer. Except he didn't because the real killer is a supernatural something-or-other who, of course, returns. As does the Bone Man, to give occasional dream-like warnings to the protagonists. Hello Magical Negro
Now, Pine Deep is famous nationwide for its elaborate haunted hay rides, which basically turn the whole town into a horror amusement park every fall. A couple of survivors of the Black Harvest are still alive, but most of the town has forgotten or would like to forget about the origin of its highly profitable "scary" reputation.
So, besides the repetitious and melodramatic prose, the characters were flat archetypes. Malcolm Crow, a recovered alcoholic, is an ex-cop who runs a comic book store and has a black belt in jujutsu, and if the triumph-of-the-nerds point is missed, he befriends a fourteen-year-old boy who fantasizes about being a superhero while getting beaten at home by his stepdad. The main characters are likeable if cliche, but the villains, well, they're all not only evil, but Eeeeeeeevil! First we have a trio of thugs running from a drug deal gone bad; the alpha-thug is a hyper-violent psychopath who spends much of the book dwelling on just how violently and evilly he's going to hurt people. There is the crazy tow truck driver who hears voices in his head and who turns into a cannibalistic serial killer without a qualm. And there is that evil stepdad who also turns out to be a minion of the Big Bad, but just in case being the willing servant of a demonic serial killer and beating his wife and stepson black and blue on a regular basis doesn't make him evil enough, Maberry underlines how really, really evil he is by offhandedly having him also publish a white supremacist newsletter. You know, so we won't miss that he's really, really evil.
So here's what really torqued me about this book: it's the first in a trilogy and it was obviously written with the next two books in mind, meaning, there isn't even an attempt to make it self-contained. We're given hints of the supernatural Unspeakably Bad Thing that's about to happen all through the book, but the entire novel is just a build-up. The author is putting the pieces in place for the real
shit to go down in the next volume. We meet the villains and the heroes, there is some intestine-chewing, and a few minor characters get kacked to jerk some tears, but oh boy, things are really
gonna hit the fan in the next book! Umm, no thanks.
It's not bad, if you like completely mainstream horror novels, but Maberry really does seem to be trying too hard to be Stephen King. While he's certainly a more economical writer and he gets to the point waaaay faster than Evil Stevie does, his characters have none of the dimensionality and gruesomely interesting detail that even King's villains possess, and Ghost Road Blues
uses violent evil goons and a few maggoty gross-outs like a hammer. A defter horror writer (like King — yes I'm a fan, for all his flaws) can convey spine-chilling dread with everyday objects or a half-remembered phrase from childhood. Maberry tries to do it by repeating ghoulish incantations over and over and over in the characters' heads.
Ultimately, there just wasn't anything original here and definitely nothing scary, so I don't care enough about what happens to read the next book.