We Are Monsters: Brian Kirk
Reviewed by Jennifer Sullivan & Steve Stred
Jennifer Sullivan Review
Hell is about to be unleashed in Sugar Hill State Hospital. While Dr. Eli Alpert clings to his role as the asylum’s Chief Medical Director, his protégé Dr. Alex Drexler thrusts himself forward to take control with promises of a new pharmaceutical drug to cure schizophrenia. Patient Crosby Nelson, aka The Apocalypse Killer, seems to be the perfect test subject for Drexler’s chemical cocktail, but instead of quieting a diseased mind the inner demons of everyone at Sugar Hill are set free.
Beyond the plot, We Are Monsters examines subjects such as the use of pharmaceuticals over other forms of treatment for mental health, how people become servants to their own internal demons, and even the very nature of perception versus reality. Quite a lot for one book! And for me, this combination of storyline and philosophizing was both a strength and a weakness in the novel.
Author Brian Kirk takes his time solidly building the main characters for the first two-thirds of the book, delving into their deepest fears and their stances on the core issues. Although each character is unique and fascinating, this slow approach weighed the story down. The reading experience felt a little like watching a spider spinning a web in real-time, with each chapter representing a different thread which isn’t immediately recognizable as being related. It’s not until the final third of the story where the reader sees how each strand connects and the trap is fully set. This was a bit frustrating since all along I was waiting for the carnage to begin based on the synopsis and first chapter, but the mayhem doesn’t start until very late in the story – once it does get going though, wow, what a trip!
While I did enjoy this novel, spending so much time with character backstories then an abrupt turn into pandemonium and a rather quick conclusion left me feeling unsatisfied. I think if the last third of the plot had been drawn out, submerging into hellish chaos longer, I would have been sated.
Steve Stred Review
Big thanks to Flametree Press for not only letting me check this one out through Netgalley, but also re-releasing this book.
We Are Monsters’ is my second book from Kirk I’ve read after ‘Will Haunt You.’ ‘Will Haunt You’ was one of my favourite reads of 2019 and so I went in with high expectations for this one – especially as it had been previously named a Bram Stoker Nominee for Best First Novel.
I have to say, overall this was an ok read, but a lot of it just didn’t click or flow.
We are introduced to Sugar Hill Asylum, under the direction of Eli. His vice-director Alex Drexler is hot on his heels to succeed him. We also are introduced to Angela, one of the psychologists working at the facility.
The main narrative of this story is that Alex has developed a compound that will help patients with schizophrenia and other mental disorders return to normal. Something he then attempts to use on his brother Jerry.
We also get introduced to Crosby, a violent offender who has been transferred to Sugar Hill for evaluation and treatment.
Crosby plays a big role in the unravelling of the story, but for the most part is a very minor character, one who completely disappears around the 75% mark.
I really wanted to love this one, but a few things kept glaring out at me.
In the beginning, Alex speeds home, only to strike and kill the family dog. His wife is upset, but we don’t hear too much about it as she’s pushed aside quickly.
Then after something horrific happens to Jerry’s character, witnessed by Alex’s wife, we don’t hear about her again. She’s essentially written out, only to be alluded to in passing during an episode Alex has near the end.
I also didn’t enjoy the character of Angela. At first, I believed she was going to be portrayed as a strong presence, but then within a few chapters was turned into an unhinged lady who likes to drink and have one night stands. The first time we read about this, it appears as though she’s drugged and then as they begin to have sex, she fades out of consciousness, only to wake up sprawled out and abandoned in the alley by the bar. I just didn’t find much of a reason for this to even happen, even after we find out her back story later on.
The ending, while in the context of the book works, really didn’t hammer anything home for me. I’m not sure if this was going to be part of a bigger world or a series of books, but the ending just happens and felt a bit flat.
Kirk can write, there’s no denying that, but as for the story within this one, it just felt more like pieces cobbled together to make a full length read.
Overall, I wanted to love this book so badly, especially with how fantastic ‘Will Haunt You’ was, but for me this just missed the mark. I can see why so many folk enjoy it, but as for this reader, it was merely ok.
We Are Monsters
Some doctors are sicker than their patients.
When a troubled psychiatrist loses funding to perform clinical trials on an experimental cure for schizophrenia, he begins testing it on his asylum s criminally insane, triggering a series of side effects that opens the mind of his hospital s most dangerous patient, setting his inner demons free.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan
Steve Stred writes dark, bleak horror fiction.
Steve is the author of three novels, a number of novellas and four collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.
Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website here