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I’ll admit I was a bit uncertain when I picked up Thommy Hutson‘s debut novel, Jinxed.
I’ve been a fan of Hutson’s work for years, especially Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy and Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, both of which he co-produced as well as some of the horror films he has written like Truth or Dare and Animal.
Still, a novel is a much different creature from a film script with its own set of rules, and from a critical standpoint, its own expectations, and there are far more examples of writers who can do one or the other than those who can do both.
As it turns out, Hutson was not only up to the task, he knocked it completely out of the park. The author presents his readers with an expertly paced, cinematic slasher in a setting that would make Agatha Christie proud, and should have film producers already bidding to adapt it for the screen.
In many ways, Jinxed is a blood-splattered love letter to the filmmakers whose franchises shaped the landscape of horror in the 80s and 90s, and just like many of those films, it all begins and ends with secrets that refuse to stay buried.
As the novel opens, Amanda Kincaid, the most promising acting talent at the very elite and even more secluded Trask Academy for the Performing Arts (think the high school from Fame only everyone here is filthy rich), is preparing to star in the school’s talent showcase attended by agents from all over the country as well as the wealthy donors who keep the school’s mahogany doors open.
The theater is deserted as she stands illuminated only by the singular ghost light in the center of the stage when she begins to hear noises and then to smell smoke. The theater is on fire and Amanda discovers there is no escape as she huddles in the orchestra pit and finally succumbs to the flames.
It’s been almost 20 years since Amanda died in the fire at Trask Academy and her story has become an urban legend that no one entirely believes but can neither completely deny as the ruins of the old, burned-out theater still loom over the academy grounds.
A group of friends are preparing for this year’s showcase and have elected to stay on campus over Spring Break to continue rehearsals for the upcoming show. Little do they know that a killer is stalking the grounds of Trask Academy.
He wears a mask that is a twisted amalgam of the Comedy and Tragedy drama masks, and his plans for the students and their deaths have been in place for quite some time.
Hutson’s love of the genre is on every single page of Jinxed. From the naming of his characters (pay attention readers!) to the inescapable plot twists and turns, he expertly walks the razor-sharp edge between what is homage and what is simply derivative and makes it seem effortless.
The novel’s often gore-filled kill scenes are both brutal and beautiful in ways that recall Clive Barker’s Books of Blood while simultaneously reminding the reader of the theatricality of Argento’s Suspiria.
And yet, for all of its homage and the author’s obvious intensive understanding of the works of these genre giants, Jinxed is a unique novel that stands easily on its own merits as a work by a first time author.
At just under 300 pages, Jinxed is a fast read that pulls the reader along in its momentum to a conclusion that seems both inevitable and shocking, and as I sit here typing this review I’m reminded again of the Killer’s mask and how it works on so many levels as the ultimate symbol for the book as a whole.
Inevitable and shocking. Brutal and beautiful. Homage and originality. Comedy and Tragedy.
Thommy Hutson could easily take on the mantle as the next Lois Duncan, and I’m sure many reviewers will no doubt draw those comparisons, but after reading his debut, I’m not sure that he isn’t better off being the first Thommy Hutson, instead.
After all, it seems that guy has a LOT of talent.