Wile E. Young makes a splash in the East Texas bayous with his debut novel, CATFISH IN THE CRADLE.
Grady Pope is an aging and lonely man. His wife passed away a few months back and his daughter has gone missing. As he goes through the motions of his life in Uncertain, Texas, his daughter returns in the midst of giving birth and his life is turned on its head.
This book has a little of everything in it. There’s the terrific setting (which happens to only be a couple of hours from where I live, so I really enjoyed reading about the familiar setting), warring senses of duty and revulsion to family, a cult, and monsters living under a lake. There’s plenty of East Texas flavor here, present in both the characters and in the prose, and Young has a good feel for the slower pace of this area of the world, in the way they speak and interact. I was pleased that even though this book is told in first-person POV from Grady Pope’s perspective I still was able to connect with Luc and Gideon and some of the other characters. They were well-drawn and you could feel the cautious nature of Grady’s relationship with these characters, which fit well with his own personality. And being that the book is from his POV, we really get a good feel for Grady himself, his flaws and his nobility and his weariness.
The monsters–and indeed the story itself–is clearly inspired by Universal’s THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends, as Young merely uses that as a sort of framework to tell his own unique tale. The setting, the story, the characters, and the horror are all from Young’s mind, and these Deep Folk stand on their own as a new and exciting monster with a mythos I would like to see Young develop further and explore in future works. The creatures have a history and some very interesting lore fused into the story and if you like the setting as much as I did, you’ll realize just how well it all fits together. I can see a great prequel story just sitting there waiting to be told, and I hope it happens one day.
I wouldn’t say there’s anything extreme about this book, but it certainly does have some good gory moments. The prose never lingers on or splashes in the viscera, but Young has no problem showing you some hideous visions through his words, so fans of the wet stuff–like me–won’t be disappointed. That said, it’s only in moments, and the real horror here, at least for me, is the relationship between Grady and his new grandson Lincoln, who is growing rapidly and changing into something less than human…though there IS some humanity there, at least for a while. This emotional exploration was one of the better parts of the novel and served to offer up more dread and horror than any of the well-written action scenes or any of the stalking, creeping sections as the suspense builds.
Good characters, a great setting, and a new and fun riff on an old monster story makes for an exciting and easy read. I’m a fairly slow reader and I managed to get through this one in just a couple weeks, and it might have been half that time if it weren’t the holidays and my family wasn’t so busy getting ready for that. The pacing is good, the story is interesting, and there are some undeniably fun scenes within.
Extreme horror fans should still find plenty to like here, and horror fans who prefer their stories less moist and more psychological will certainly be able to hang with this one. Not terribly long, but a solid story, well told, and most importantly, entertaining throughout.
4/5 stars. Take this one with you next time you’re out on the lake. 😉 Find it in print and digital here.