Strange creatures wreaking havoc around a small American town are, of course, nothing new. At least not in horror fiction. Michael Moore offers a refreshing take on a familiar plot with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
I have to admit I was taken aback by Highway Twenty’s prologue. Some dodgy bloke abducts a little boy in order to do God knows what to him. Was this going to be the kind of novel that regards child abuse as entertainment, I wondered. If so, it definitely wasn’t for me. I must be growing soft with age. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. By the end of the prologue the little boy turned out to be, well, not really a little boy, the hunter had become the hunted, and I was hooked.
Allow me a brief personal diversion here. It looks like I’m falling in love with horror again. For years it seemed as if horror, at least the mainstream stuff, was all about rehashing tired old clichés, like a vampire sucking its own blood. But recently I’ve come across so many creators who offer a new take on the genre without forgetting about the treasure trove that is its rich past. Moore is definitely one of them.
Highway Twenty’s premise is simple: insect-like creatures overrun a small American town with disastrous results. Of course this setting offers virtually unlimited opportunities for gore (see also: Cronenberg’s The Fly) or weirdness (see: Kafka’s Metamorphosis). True gore hounds may be disappointed by Highway Twenty’s relative lack of splatter, though I still wouldn’t recommend this book as a lunchtime read. Being more of a suspense lover, however, I think Moore strikes the balance just right. The first half of the novel in particular radiates with a creepy and menacing atmosphere before the story shifts gears and action kicks in.
The pacing, it should be said, is excellent. The story takes its time to set the scene before breaking into an adrenaline-fuelled rush towards a dramatic climax. There are a few loose ends – I would have liked to see more of Trisha and Lori – but this is more of an indication of my attachment to those characters than evidence of any serious plot holes. All in all, the story feels solid and convincing.
While some plot twists can be spotted from a mile off – that ain’t no ordinary stray dog, dude – these moments set the scene for the story’s more unexpected imagery. Picture a pine forest with hundreds of neatly aligned graves, a man driving around town with a huge rotting insect corpse in his trunk, and a homeless man with a dodgy eye pointing a stolen shotgun at a car crash victim. Moments like these, described in sharp to-the-point prose, set Highway Twenty apart from the competition.
The ending, which I’m obviously NOT going to spoil, left me satisfied exactly because it was so unsatisfying. Let’s say that many horror story endings are either of the Everyone Dies a Horrible Death variety, or the They Beat Evil and Live Happily Ever After type. Boring either way, if you ask me. Highway Twenty goes for a more original, ambiguous approach. It’s not neat by any stretch of the imagination, but it causes the story to crawl under your skin and stay there long after you’ve finished the last page.
Image my own – They are coming…