Publication Date: March 31, 2009
In Afraid by Jack Kilborn (a.k.a. J.A. Konrath), Safe Haven, Wisconsin has always been a quiet, crime-free town. A helicopter crashes outside of town and a terrible engineered weapon is released that kills everything that gets in its way. With only one road in and out of the town, survival relies on an unlikely hero. Is this accident not as coincidental as it seems?
In this flashback review, we’re turning back the clock to March 27, 2009, to one of my first Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) book reviews, Afraid by Jack Kilborn (J.A. Konrath). Konrath also writes the Jack Daniels series and he partners with other authors for collaborating projects. None of the Jack Daniels books would have made my top-ten lists. They have good bad guys and can be fun, and I enjoyed reading them, but they weren’t the stuff to blow you away. Afraid blew me away. The craftsmanship of the story line and just the general edge-of-the-seat thrills are overwhelming — something I love as a reader. When I posted the review on Goodreads, the first comment suggested that I had to be the mother of Konrath’s child. Not so, this was simply a truly excellent read.
A plane crashes outside of the small town of Safe Haven, Wisconsin and unleashes a horrifying string of events brought to life in a truly spectacular way by Jack Kilborn. Kilborn conveys an emotion that could be mildly called terror in a beautiful economy of words that sucks the reader in right from the start. This reader — who can be callous in the extreme when reading — teared up during the first kill — a scene so cleverly diabolical and sadistic that I think I can say Kilborn has a fan for life. The baddies in this one — a good baddie can be interesting — these baddies are so brutal and unexpected that they tie the reader in a brotherhood of joy and love of art. Although nasty, awful and horrible — a truly good baddie will involve you emotionally — it is very hard to feel for these baddies. Sorry if that makes this reader twisted, but read it and tell me how awful I am for feeling for the baddie.
Our unlikely hero, Sheriff Streng, has little to no experience with bad guys. Safe Haven has not been a community plagued by crime. His toughest cases have been a little public drunkenness. When the sheriff is called upon to protect his town and face five killers, this is a character who will have to use his brainpower. He’s older and paunchy and not even slightly reminiscent of Rambo. Thankfully, he has the help of a young fireman, a single mother and her 12-year-old son. As Streng digs into what’s happening in the town the enormity provides Kilborn with some truly magical plot twists.
It must also be said for Kilborn that though we meet dozens of people in this book and many only for a paragraph or two, we have the feeling of knowing them. These are not paper doll people, these are people who feel for and want to win and…well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. By now the reader of this review is probably rolling their eyes saying, “Oh please, the book can’t possibly be THAT good.” Oh, trust me — there are no words for such a fascinating a read. Afraid is not for the faint of heart. You can’t watch horror movies at night? Well, maybe this is the one to pass up. If you like to be frightened and you like a truly horrifying story line which is well crafted and sucks you in like a brand new vacuum? Kilborn is the author for you.
In the six years since posting this review, Konrath and I have fallen out of love. The publisher of Konrath’s Jack Daniels novels, from what I understand, dropped that arm and the tone of Konrath’s blogs turned angry and bitter toward what he considered “Dead Tree Books.” He pursued e-book self-publishing, and he pursued it with a passion. Anyone still with a legacy (or “dead tree”) publisher, in his eyes, was below all other bad things with which he might be presented. Konrath had his converts. Barry Eisler, a good friend of Konrath’s and author of the John Rain series, hopped on the self-publishing train. That I am turned off by the virtual doesn’t mean I don’t understand some of the anger. When Konrath was with the “dead tree” publisher, he knew that authors could only rely on themselves to get their name out there, and he worked to that goal with a vengeance. This is an author who visited 100 bookstores in 100 days in an effort to boost his sales only to find himself moderately popular but without a traditional publishing house behind him. In the end, a lot of what he’s said just put me off and I have yet to read on.
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