THROWBACK by Lynn Hortel
The story begins in 1997 as nine-year-old Jordyn sits on the couch with her father looking at coffee table books. It seems idyllic, but it’s not. All is not well in this household and her father, having had to take a job driving trucks, comes home one day, high on meth, and murders Jordyn’s mother and her younger brother, Christopher, with a hammer. Thus, begins this young girl’s saga.
With no one to take her in, Jordyn enters the foster care system and is placed in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Payne. There are other foster children in the household, but Jordyn is the only one who gets a room to herself. We soon learn why. Mr. Payne is not a good man.
Jordyn suffers abuse for several years before running away. She eventually gets a job waitressing and begins to make friends – most notably the restaurant’s manager, Maria, and her brother, Sam. Jordyn buys a small house in the desert and it looks like things are going to work out for her. But wait, there is another predator looming on the horizon – a national park ranger named, Liam, who is a serial rapist and murderer.
This debut novel by Lynn Hortel is a fast-paced, intense read. The torment her young protagonist must endure is truly horrifying. The plot takes place against the backdrop of the eerie and compelling beauty of Joshua Tree National Park, giving the drama a surreal quality.
Once started, this book was hard to put down. However, toward the end, the violence escalated to such a level that I no longer wished to read on. I found myself skimming the pages until I reached the concluding chapter. I wanted to know what happened to Jordyn, but I no longer cared to read about the atrocities being inflicted on this young woman. I think if the author had tightened things up at the end and tempered the violence visited upon her young heroine, this could have been a blockbuster of a read.
However, it is a damn good first novel – worth reading. It has a heroine with an indomitable spirit whose character is fully fleshed and realistic. The villain in the piece is also multi-dimensional and, while we don’t learn much of his background, when he’s on the stage he is equally as compelling as the heroine.
Highly recommended – however, be warned, it is violent.
I received a free copy of this novel as a member of the Horror Writers Association in consideration for a Bram Stoker Award.