Book Review: Little Heaven by Nick Cutter
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Gallery Books (January 10, 2017)
Length: 496 pages
Believe me, no one is more surprised than I am at my rating. I wanted to like Little Heaven so much, not only because it sounded so intriguing but also because I am a fan of Cutter’s The Troop. However, his newest novel simply did not appeal to me in the same way, despite it feeling like the next step for the author and the story being well put-together.
The book opens with an introduction to a trio of rough mercenaries who have reunited to stand against an evil from their past. Back in 1965, Micah Shughrue, Ebenezer Elkins, and Minerva Atwater were forced to set aside their differences (i.e. stop killing each other) in order to help a woman named Ellen Bellhaven rescue her nephew from a religious cult in New Mexico. Everything that happened during that fateful year is told in a series of flashbacks chronicling their harrowing mission into the wilderness to infiltrate Little Heaven, the cult’s compound run by a fiendishly insane megalomaniac named Amos Flesher. And yet, compared to the true terrors our three protagonists find lurking in the darkness surrounding them, even the human kind of monsters will seem like small fry.
Fast forward to fifteen years later, Micah wakes up one day to find his daughter missing, abducted in the night. When his greatest fears are confirmed, the former mercenary has no choice but to call on his one-time allies, beseeching Ebenezer and Minerva to join up with him once more for round two against the horror that has come back to haunt them.
Since I like leading with the positives, I’m going to first talk about the things I enjoyed about this book. To its credit, Little Heaven really takes the creeps and scares to a whole new level, which is extreme even for Cutter. His writing style has clearly evolved since The Troop, no longer relying solely on the “gross-out” factor to strike terror into readers’ hearts. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of blood, guts and gore in this novel, because there is (not to mention, those with a fear of snakes or creepy crawlies will have especially rough time with this one). Still, in order for a horror novel to be effective, graphic descriptions are only half the picture. The other half of it requires a bit more finesse, a way to bring the atmosphere of dread and suspense to the surface. Cutter did a great job on that front, creating an intense and all-encompassing sense of “wrongness” that never quite leaves you. The scenes in Little Heaven are especially well-written, where it feels like the squalor, degeneracy and madness are constantly closing in on you from all sides.
Now, if only I felt the same love for the character development. In theory, the protagonists should have worked better for me. Micah, Ebenezer, and Minerva are the tough-as-nails sort, killers and bounty hunters with checkered pasts. I have no problems reading about morally ambiguous characters—in fact, I enjoy them, and it’s great when their authors manage to make them sympathetic and likeable. But regretfully, I found it really hard to care about anyone in this book, which also likely dampened my enthusiasm for the story. All the characters were too thinly sketched for my tastes; they were flat, unchanging, and I just didn’t think enough attention was paid to them overall.
The term “old school horror” also seems to get tossed around a lot when discussing this book, which I’d say is pretty spot on. Good news, perhaps, for readers who enjoy the older stylings of Stephen King. Bad news on the other hand for yours truly, who has always found King’s earlier work to be excessively wordy and bloated (which is why I could never get through his books like It). As such, I was really not all that surprised when I came to experience the same ennui with Little Heaven.
Which all comes down to why I’m sure this is simply a case of “wrong book, wrong time” or “Sorry, Little Heaven, it’s not you, it’s me.” As much as I’ve enjoyed Nick Cutter in the past, sadly this one didn’t quite live up to my expectations, though of course that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Personal taste being what it is, and with mine being more capricious than most, I hope this won’t dissuade anyone from trying the book out for themselves if the description sounds like something you might enjoy. Indeed, take everything I say here with a grain of salt since the vast majority of other reviews I’ve seen so far have been positively glowing. If the premise interests you, I highly recommend giving it a try.