Written by Jack Ketchum
Published by Leisure
Buy it from the Creature Co!
Review by RJ Sevin
first encountered Jack Ketchum ten years ago: Overlook Connection Press
founder Dave Hinchberger told me about his upcoming limited edition of The Girl Next Door,
a novel both notorious and, for many years, nearly impossible to find.
Devotees of this savage work made photocopies of the paperback, which
were sold and traded at conventions. It was an intense read, he assured
me, as compelling as it was unbearable. I pre-ordered the
signed/limited edition months in advance. I wasn’t sure if I’d dig it,
but it would be a cool collectable, anyway – it was signed by several
Horror heavyweights, the Maine man himself included.
The book arrived. I began reading…
some point during the night, I considered stopping. But stopping for
the night may have meant stopping for good — if I gave myself a chance
to put it down, I may not have picked it up again, choosing, instead,
something a little safer. So I didn’t stop reading until I was done,
until the sun rose and the birds chirped and I was exhausted,
physically and emotionally.
It would be ten years until I read another novel by Dallas Mayr’s nom de plume.
Heavily edited in its initial run, Off Season is now available in its original, controversial form, courtesy of Leisure. Like The Girl Next Door, Off Season
has a reputation that precedes it: brutal, visceral, harrowing,
unflinching. It’s all of the above, and then some. Ketchum’s first
novel, it’s not as finely honed as Girl, lacking that book’s subtlety, resonance, and depth of characterization. And where Girl takes your hand and gently guides you into horror, Off Season balls its fist into your hair, shoves your face screaming into the blood and the brains and the entrails.
The Girl Next Door makes you an accomplice; Off Season victimizes you.
Inspired in part by actual events, Off Season
spends its first 100 or so pages introducing us to a handful of
characters – six friends (three guys, three girls) spending some time
in an isolated cabin and two cops going through the motions during
their town’s quiet off season. Glimpses of the horrors to come are
given, terrifying reminders that you never really have a clue what’s
going on outside your window, as you lay your head on the pillow and
slip into the utter vulnerability of sleep.
an explosion of glass and blood, the leisurely-paced set-up gives way
to a nerve-wrenching siege, a savage reminder of just how quickly and
painfully your life can change. One moment, you’re drifting into
post-coital sleep; the next, you’re being readied for the spit.
From the first wave of attack until the closing chapter, Off Season doesn’t
stop. It’s a horror novel, pure, simple, and unapologetically.
Concerned not at all with poetic flourishes or philosophical tangents,
its only goal is to pummel, bite, scratch, and gouge. Far more brutal
and graphic than The Girl Next Door, it somehow manages to be a hell of a lot easier to read than that nasty excursion into sadistic voyeurism. Girl feels like the real thing; Off Season feels like the nastiest horror film you’ve ever seen, the crazed and malicious offspring of Night of the Living Dead, The Last House On The Left, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
not without its flaws: despite the fact that much attention was spent
on establishing the six friends, I still had a little trouble keeping
track of who was who. It got a little easier, once Ketchum started
knocking down the pins, so to speak. Boldly – and in true Psycho
fashion – the most well drawn and well established of the group is
among the first to be removed from the equation. And what a removal…
You, of course, don’t read a book like Off Season
for its unforgettable characters. You read it to be made uneasy, to be
unnerved. You read it to have the hell scared out of you. On all three
counts, Off Season delivers.