Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Jack Ketchum - the horror author that Stephen King loves

Enough about movies, let's talk about books. I have recently discovered an amazing, if not somewhat neurotic, horror author by the name of Jack Ketchum (a pseudonym - his real name is Dallas Mayr, which doesn't sound as horror-y). He is successful in his genre but not so crazy famous that he's completely inaccessible to fans. He has an official website where you can leave comments or questions for him, and get this - he actually responds to them. Within a couple of days. It's amazing. I told him how one of his novels seriously affected me and he actually took the time to show his appreciation for my comments. How cool is that?

Anyway, maybe you're wondering why I say he's somewhat neurotic. I call him that because most authors have a style of writing or general theme in their writing that transcends all their books. Pick any three Jack Ketchum novels to read, and you would swear that they were all written by different people. There is some element of the horrific in them all, sometimes though, it is not what most would consider horror.

Ketchum first made an impression on readers with his very first published novel, Off Season. In this gruesome novel, a group of friends staying at a coastal house in Maine are attacked by a feral family living in the caves on the coast and feeding on human flesh. Reminiscent of The Hills Have Eyes, both stories are based on the legend of the Sawney Bean family (an interesting read - check out the story here).

Off Season can be described as a gore-fest. It's a fairly quick read, but there is so much blood and guts and incestuous cave-people sex packed into this tiny novel that it is not something you'll forget soon. We even get a recipe on how to cook human flesh. Nice. But it's totally awesome. Gorehounds like me love this shit - if it makes you do that dramatic thing of putting her hand to your mouth in shock, then I'd say the story is a success. Well done, Jack. (There's also an equally disgusting sequel to Off Season that is worth a read, Offspring.)

Okay, so we have a gore-fest like Off Season, and then the next Ketchum book I read is Old Flames. Whuh? This is by the same guy? Old Flames is this incredibly simple story of a woman meeting up with an "old flame" (oooh, clever title, eh?) and she either still loves the guy or is just a wacko because she becomes friends with his wife just to kill her. It's not that Old Flames is badly written or a bore or anything, it's just so weird that this is the same guy that wrote a scene in Off Season where the cannibal girl stabs her brother in the ass, then takes the blood from the wound, rubs it on his penis and then has sex with him. So I don't know if this difference in the general theme of the writing is really neurotic as I said earlier, or some kind of proof of a mad genius.

Also, in the copy of Old Flames that I read there was another novella in there called Right to Life. Holy crap. Just look at the picture over there. This was about a couple who kidnap a pregnant woman on her way to an abortion clinic. They want the baby so they decide to hold her hostage in their basement until she gives birth - there's some sadomasochistic torture and other fun stuff here, but again, it's another example of this writer seemingly not knowing in what genre he wants to be. It's good that he's got such range, but you probably wouldn't think much of this author until you read The Girl Next Door.

It is one of my new favorite novels. You wanna talk real horror? This novel GOES THERE. I mean, it goes to places that are so dark they can't possibly be something that could ever really happen. But The Girl Next Door is based on a crime that occurred in the 60s in Indianapolis. I'm eerily obsessed with this story - the true crime, the book, and the movies - and have much too much to say about them. Will leave for the next blog.

Another Ketchum novel I recommend is probably The Lost. Great story with some unforgettable characters. Ray Pye is this nihilistic, egotistic, evil person who shoots two girls he sees in the woods because he thinks they are lesbians. He drags his two "friends" into the act as well, and manages to not get caught for the attack, even though one local cop is sure that he committed the crime. The novel is a rather slow burn as the reader gets to know Ray and the other characters around him. The big question throughout the novel though is, Where is this going? How is it going to end? Is Ray just going to get caught? Will there be a big shoot-out or something? These characters have gotten themselves into some serious stuff and with Ketchum, you're not really sure what to expect.

Everyone seems to love Red as well, but it didn't really affect me as much as it did others. Perhaps I have no heart. I'm very curious about several other Ketchum novels, but I find he's a little hard to come by at chain bookstores. Go for Amazon.com or a used bookstore to find some of his more obscure novels.


  1. Just read about "The Girl Next Door" on Wikipedia and that is indeed a really terrifying true crime story.

    Looking forward to your next post!

  2. Thank you so much for reading! My post on "The Girl Next Door" is coming soon - it's an important topic to me and I want to get it just right!

    I definitely recommend reading TGND if you haven't yet. It is all the more powerful if you know the true story behind it.

  3. Nice. Ketchum is maybe my favourite horror novelist. Great to see someone showing his work some love - and a cool write-up in general.