Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: FLAME TREE PRESS; New edition edition (6 Sept. 2018)
Amazon UK: Buy here
The piercing, blood curdling screams rebound off the trees and resonate throughout the woodland surrounding your tiny cottage. Terrified you pull the sheet tighter and tighter around yourself as if that will keep away and protect you from the creature outside. As the howling and caterwauling get closer and closer you begin to realise those unbearable sounds may actually be words, that the creature is actually trying to say something. Straining your terrified ears you listen intently, yes, yes those are words. It, it appears to be screaming….. a blurb:
The monsters live inside of Kate Woodson. Chronic pain and a host of autoimmune diseases have robbed her of a normal, happy life. Her husband Andrew’s surprise of their dream Maine lake cottage for the summer is the gift of a lifetime. It’s beautiful, remote, idyllic, a place to heal.
But they are not alone. Something is in the woods, screeching in the darkness, banging on the house, leaving animals for dead.
Just like her body, Kate’s cottage becomes her prison. She and Andrew must fight to survive the creature that lurks in the dead of night.
Kate Woodson and her husband Andrew are a very happily married couple. They are very much in love and Andrew is dedicated to Kate in every way. They’re the kind of couple who finish each other’s sentences; know each other’s thoughts before they are spoken; instinctively know how the other likes their eggs cooked; will quite likely pick the bogies from each other’s nostrils – they appear to enjoy the kind of relationship that you and I (well, ok, maybe just I, sans bogey picking), maybe wish that we were were in. Andrew dotes on Kate in every way, but not just because he’s in love with her, but because Kate is very ill with a host of chronic autoimmune diseases. You see, Kate suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and, just to compound matters, Lupus (you can find out more about each of those by clicking on the links). Both of these are autoimmune diseases, both very real, and which dictate Kate’s life in the most uncomfortable and debilitating way. Fortunately for her, Andrew is a loyal and dedicated husband/carer. Their relationship is strong enough to endure the heartache and ups and downs of living daily with EDS and Lupus, and the inevitable outcome that they will bring.
Creature sets its stall out right front the very first sentence:
“Kate Woodson was dying, and her executioner was her own body.”
It’s a chirpy opening number, but there is more than one creature in this book.
The first part of this book deals with the one living within Kate and their daily struggles to cope: the endless medications; heart problems; dislocated limbs and their painful relocation – the list, sadly, goes on. As such Creature is a slow burner; not diving in with the action or gory details, but slowly building character: the relationship between Kate and Andrew; how they each deal with Kate’s illness; their gallows humour (Andrew calls Kate his ‘little crip’); and building up the tension of the lurking menace, and doing so beautifully. You really get to know Andrew and Kate and you can’t help but feel heartbroken at their plight. Andrew works in a job he hates, but it provides health benefits that they really cannot do without. Kate has a tiny but supportive family in her brother Ryker who is a slightly new-age thinking kinda guy. He believes that visualising her diseases will help Kate to cure them. It all sounds very wishy washy to me, but who am I to judge when I’m not the one with the crippling disease, huh?
And then there is Buttons. Nawwww, little Buttons, or But-But as Kate affectionately calls him (seriously, that is the cutest nickname, isn’t it?), is their pet Beagle. I don’t think that I’ve ever read such a well rounded animal character as Buttons. He is properly a dog; there is no unnecessary anthropomorphism here, but his character shines through. He’s as important a character in this story as either Kate or Andrew. I totes want a dog like him.
One day Andrew decides that enough is enough and takes a sabbatical from work and rents out a lakeside cottage up in Maine; somewhere remote where they can be alone and recuperate, maybe take their minds off of the day-to-day agonies of Kate’s condition – as much as it is possible to do so at any rate. At first the cottage and the setting are idyllic; the lake is right outside the patio, it is surrounded by woods and their nearest neighbours are a row-boat trip away, but it isn’t long before Kate starts to hear things in the woods. At first the ear piercing cries they hear outside are put down to the local wildlife; a quick Google search convinces both herself and Andrew that the cries are of deer, but once Andrew discovers decapitated animals around the cottage, deep claw marks where there really shouldn’t be any (no, not there!), and a crudely constructed den, things start to get creepy. Ok, things start to get creepier!
And then someone, or something starts luzzing rocks at the cottage – and not your standard pebble sized ones either, no, these are sodding great really-hard-to-lift-giving-oneself-a-bloody-hernia-sized-bastards – and things start to go downhill from there.
Has something followed them from their home in New Jersey? Kate used to see a dark shadow out of the corner of her eye whilst at home – not your standard floater of the sort that really pisses you off once you notice it and begin to see it everywhere, but something more sinister, darker – but it never manifested itself to her in any real way; it was always just out of sight, ever present on her really bad days. But this creature is real, and it is truly horrific. As I have mentioned before, this book is a slow burner, building the relationship between Kate and Andrew, and Buttons, and detailing the struggles of daily life living with chronic, debilitating illness, but once the creature is revealed (this is no spoiler, btw. It is heavily implied throughout that there is more than just kids mucking about here, as suggested by the usual ever-so-helpful local constabulary), the pedal is pushed firmly to the metal and it’s a breathless, tense, nerve wracking and highly emotional ride to the very end. And as for that ending……
I really don’t want to say any more here. Creature is a book best left to you to discover. Yeah, yeah, I know I always say that, yadda-yadda-blah-blah. but I feel I have already said enough, and I can hear something scuffing about outside my bedroom window….and are those stones I can hear hitting the windows and roof? Ok, I’m taking that as a warning to shut the hell up! *shuts the hell up*
When I was reading Creature I couldn’t help wonder about the research that Hunter must have made into the effects of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Lupus, not just on the body, but also of the day to day struggles of living with it. It comes across SO vividly I had to wonder whether there was more personal aspect to this story – thundering, sphincter loosening creatures aside – and at the end of the book is an afterword to prove that I was correct. Hunter’s own wife suffers from a host of autoimmune diseases and Creature was written whilst she struggled through a bout of pneumonia, and so this is not only a terrifying tale of survival against creatures both within and without Kate’s body, it is also an intensely personal story written truly from the heart of Hunter Shea. And, to me at least, it shows. Andrew’s struggles with Kate’s conditions; the guilt he feels at his feelings of anger towards not just Kate’s condition, and at the life it has robbed from them, but also occasionally towards Kate; the pent up feelings of frustration that they cannot enjoy the life that they had envisioned coming out inside his head as he runs off the emotions, taking it out on his own body and the road beneath his feet, must surely echo those of Hunter’s own experiences. This very personal aspect really helps to bring Creature to life.
Hunter Shea is the author of over 13 horror novels and I am truly aghast that I have never come across him before. His wee bio below makes me want to a) marry him, and b) hunt down and purchase all of his back catalogue right now. Which I shall do! Right after I marry him (sorry Mrs Shea, you can have him back, and I’ll have the marriage annulled, just as soon as I’ve fondled his horror memorabilia 😉 ). If any of his other books are only half as good as Creature then I know that they will be excellent. I don’t read nearly as much horror as I should anymore, but I feel that that is about to change 🙂
Creature is a truly immersive story of horror both natural and supernatural, with characters that feel very real, who you genuinely care about and root for, especially towards the end when things really kick off and there appears to be no way out. Oh, and there’s Buttons, one of the truly great canine characters in modern fiction.
Creature is definitely worthy of the very first Beardy Book Blog Hairy Seal of Approval *makes stamping motion with hand*
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. Hunter’s novels can even be found on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. His video podcast, Monster Men, is one of the most watched horror podcasts in the world. He’s a bestselling author of over 13 (lucky number!) books, all of them written with the express desire to quicken heartbeats and make spines tingle. Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to gobble down Gray’s Papaya hotdogs when the craving hits.
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER: FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.