BOOK REVIEW: House of Skin by Jonathan Janz

What is this one, the sixth Jonathan Janz book I’ve read? I can’t remember off hand at the moment, but that sounds accurate. And if you’re waiting with bated breath for me to come across one of his works I don’t think was just absolutely terrific (all his others I’ve read have been 5-star gems for me), keep waiting. It hasn’t happened yet.

In this outing, Janz treats us to a family outcast with dreams of writing the next great American novel. His uncle Myles Carver has passed away, and though he never knew the man, Paul has inherited his estate. He moves to the house–Watermere–with aspirations to break free of the family banking business and establish himself as his own man his own way and write a great book. Only, it doesn’t really come together for him…at least not consciously.

Paul meets Julia after a time and is instantly taken with her. Her beauty is stunning and his recent breakup with his girlfriend has him longing for companionship. But when she reads the pages of something he doesn’t remember reading–a horrifying novel which is basically a retelling of horrific events in their town of Shadeland from decades past which he could NOT have known about–she throws the pages in his face in a fit of disgust and rage Paul isn’t able to understand. Their budding relationship is already crumbling, and the strange happenings in the house and the nearby woods have Paul reeling.

As local thugs harass him and he begins piecing together his family’s past–and that of Watermere–Paul comes to realize a horrible truth about the past and the unknown members of his family. Lust and passions rise as an almost immortal creature in the form of a beautiful succubus named Annabel–with connections to his uncle and to Julia–comes crawling out of the past seeking blood and rebirth.

This one read very much like a haunted house story in many parts, made all the more apparent by the main character reading through Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY early in the tale. But it’s much more than that. Weaving in snippets of the past with multiple characters over several decades, Janz knits together a tightly plotted gothic tale of lust and terror through his singular command of prose. We can feel the desperation in both Paul and Julia, as well as that of several of the sideline characters, as the horror builds with the suspense and onion layers of information from the past and the present peel back to reveal the abominable evil coming forth in the story. And man, does it pack a wallop!

As with his other works, Janz draws believable characters who make decisions that seem fully authentic and who come across likable or despicable, depending on which we’re discussing. You give a damn what happens to them, as you might a friend or relative, and he successfully has us rooting for them all the way to the bitter, blood-soaked end.

The setting was effectively creepy, the situations organic, be them absurd in moments or terrifying, and the descriptions spot on. As in all his other works, Janz once more managed to make me squirm in my seat as I read with his vivid narrative voice, though this time not so much from a description of pain, but one of gag-inducing horror (sex and maggots do NOT mate for a pretty picture!).

Yeah, yeah, I’m a fan of Janz. Sue me. The man writes excellent horror novels…no, scratch that, I’m not putting him in a box. He writes excellent NOVELS. Period. He has all the talent of King and Barker combined, and he couples this with the electric and breathless pacing that Dean Koontz is famous for in some of his earlier work, creating a voice and style all his own and utterly engaging. I’ve said it before (probably more than once), and I’ll say it again: JONATHAN JANZ IS THE NEXT BIG DEAL IN HORROR! It’s only a matter of time before we see him explode into the stratosphere and everyone from Hollywood to Bollywood is clawing for the film rights to his work. Mark my words.

And you know what? I don’t even think we’ve seen his best work yet. They say that often the best writers only get better at their craft over time, and I feel Janz in certainly in that category. This particular book is one his older ones (perhaps even his first being reprinted recently, though I’m not certain of that), but I’ve read enough to see a growth and progression to his work that is unmistakable. I can’t wait for more.

Perhaps the greatest praise I could give another author would be to predict that, long after they’ve passed from this world to the next, their work will live on, continue to be sought after for use in other mediums, and have a lasting impact on history and literature. Think of Stoker, Poe, Machen, Matheson, Irving, Bloch, and many others. Jonathan Janz will ABSOLUTELY stand amongst them. And he deserves it. Buy it in print, digital, or audio here.

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