“The Missing” by Sarah Langan

the missing

Here’s my capsule review of Sarah Langan’s The Missing: I had to put the book down when bedtime approached and read Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods before sleeping just so I wouldn’t drift off with bad images in my head.  Which, as you all know, means a quality piece of horror fiction.

Late last night, and the night before,
Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door…

Sorry, that was going through my  head all through the opening chapters of this book.  It’s inevitable. Set a horror story in Maine and you’ll be compared to Stephen King.  Bury something out in the woods in a town in Maine that infects people, you’ll call to mind The Tommyknockers.

Aliens!

Sorry again. Also, spoilers for “The Tommyknockers,” I guess.

Now that I’ve got it out of my system, let me say that The Missing is a brilliant, compelling, terrifying work all its own, and really bears no resemblance to The Tommyknockers other than a strange something out in the woods that takes people over.  In this case, people are taken over by a virus, dark and ancient, that feeds on humans and either devours them or inhabits them.  So it’s a good mix of a vampire book and a zombie book in terms of scares. There’s isolation, there’s human horror, there’s blood and gore, there’s small-town politics and passions run amok–a delightful mix.

I’ve often said that for horror to really work, just as for comedy to really work, you have to care.  You need to connect with or identify with the characters at least on some level.  Otherwise, who cares if they get eaten by rabid-vampire-ghost-werewolves?  Langan populates the Maine town of Corpus Christi with well-drawn characters and relationships, and excels at developing them throughout the story.

On the cover blurb Peter Straub praises Langan’s “poetic sensiblity,” and I agree.  Her descriptions of gruesome murders, rot and decay, and human monsters are beautifully crafted.  When she describes blood-soaked dirt, you feel it beneath your feet and in your hands.   When there’s a scene describing carnage in a hospital ward, you smell it.  There’s enough embroidery to the writing to give it depth and texture, but never so much that it takes away from the suspense and the action.  The Missing moves quickly.  And brutally.

Come to find out, The Missing is  actually part of a series.  Or at least has a companion book.  While the book stands perfectly well on its own, I think The Keeper would provide some context and backstory for the story’s events.

If you’re after a great bloody story with few left standing at the end, give this a try.  And keep your Terry Pratchett handy.

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