At first glance Joe Schreiber’s debut novel “Chasing the Dead” starts out as a pedestrian thriller, well-written but nothing terribly original. Single mother Susan Young receives a call from an unknown man who has kidnapped her daughter and nanny and gives Susan precise instructions to follow that soon have her on the road trailing the mysterious man. About a third of the way through the book it takes a sharp turn for the truly horrific as Susan finds herself back at the spot where years earlier, she and a friend committed an act of murder against a serial killer preying on children in Gray Haven. But how could anyone possibly know what they did? The man forces Susan to go into the water underneath a bridge in Gray Haven and dig up the contents, buried long ago in plastic trash bags.
Susan soon is traveling a path through a series of old New England towns, all established in 1802, the same year as Gray Haven, each with a statue of man named Isaac Hamilton that is missing a new limb in each town she visits. Susan soon discovers the terrible link between the ominous 18th century Hamilton, and the man she helped kill and bury nicknamed “The Engineer.”
Chasing the Dead caught me off guard, twisting from thriller to supernatural thriller on a dime. Schreiber builds suspense masterfully, revealing only enough about the plot to make you demand to know the rest. Just when you think he’s settling in, he hits you with a blast to the face. Poor Susan, wading through the water and digging with her hands into the chilly wet earth is a truly terrifying moment.
Chasing the Dead’s decrepit, claustrophobic New England setting with its long hushed secrets, certainly evokes feelings of a Lovecraftian yarn although I don’t believe that Schreiber was intentionally going in that direction, particularly since his writing is far more visceral. At 208 pages, it’s a short, quick thrill ride of a horror story and one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in quite some time. Schreiber will certainly be a name to be reckoned with in the future.