Jesse Wheeler is a retired rock guitarist for The Rising Dead, a near-famous heavy metal band. There was a time when Jesse was the man everyone wanted to know; he was wild and spontaneous. His only responsibility had been his guitar solo. Now, though, Jesse has a wife and a son. He doesn’t drink anymore, either – not since the night that his son fell from his crib, damaging his brain.
Jesse hides a dark secret that might just be the end of him. One night, when he is driving home from a reunion gig for The Rising Dead, Jesse’s radio turns on of its own accord. The presenter speaks directly to him, using his name and chilling the blood that runs through his veins. It quickly becomes clear that someone is targeting him. His car breaks down on the side of the road, and two large men approach him, brandishing weapons. It is as though Jesse has been plunged into a horror novel as he is captured by the men and dragged into a labyrinth of pain, torture, and hellish experiments.
It seems that Jesse’s life will never be the same again. He must endure a number of gruesome experiences as he attempts to escape from his mysterious captors. The thing is, everything happening seems somehow familiar to him: it’s something to do with that book he read – the book about the girl who was kidnapped. Yet surely the events now unfurling around him cannot be happening because of the book? How can a book lead to such torture? How can a book know his darkest secret?
Brian Kirk’s Will Haunt You is a tale of undiluted horror. It brings its readers inside its narrative, making them characters within the novel as it asks them to believe in the toxic power of the horror story. It suggests that, by reading Will Haunt You, its audience will be put through the experiences of Jesse Wheeler, who was targeted by a mysterious and deadly organisation after he read a very similar book.
This breaking down of the forth wall adds a new dimension of terror to this story; for the most part, it comes across as extremely chilling. From the moment you open this book, you become a part of its story. You become a target, and the more you read, the more danger you put yourself in. Jesse frequently reminds his audience of this fact, telling them they are already being watched; that there are already cameras in their homes; and that they are already doomed. In fact, the first half of this story is truly chilling. It gets inside your head and really makes you question your situation. This is not only a story of terror, either: this is a horror story, and it can be quite gruesome at times. There is gore, grotesque social experiments, and a great deal of violence: this is certainly not a book for the faint of heart.
Unfortunately, this is a story that begins well and slowly deteriorates as it progresses. What begins as a five-star read quickly dissipates into something less powerful. The protagonist, Jesse, is interesting, but he isn’t quite able to hold the story of Will Haunt You together. His alcoholism causes him to enter a state of delirium that confuses the narrative and is likely to cause readers to lose patience with Kirk’s writing. The story seems to lose focus, and although it recovers towards the narrative’s conclusion, by then the damage has already been done. The story has already lost its power.
A common complaint with this novel is Kirk’s style of writing: it is jagged, abrupt, and rarely contains full clauses. For a lot of readers, this makes it difficult to understand, particularly for those who are not used to this style. It is easy to see why it would alienate a lot of readers, and yet by condemning this style, critics fail to appreciate the fact that abrupt sentences and incomplete clauses are a well-established motif of the gothic genre. In utilising this style, Kirk makes his novel comparable to the likes of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971), and even The Castle of Otranto (1764), a book commonly known as the ‘first’ gothic novel. The writing coincides with the book’s content, for whilst the language is abrupt and non-conventional, the story is even more so.
Will Haunt You may not be the most consistent novel, particularly in regards to the middle of the narrative. It is also true that Kirk’s style of writing may alienate some readers, and yet it is not badly written. It is unsettling, and has the potential to horrify its readers. It is the quintessence of the horror genre, yet still contains unique quirks; playing with the form of the novel, it asks us to question whether a book – a material object filled with paper and words – has the potential to destroy.