Before He Wakes: Mark Allen Gunnells
Reviewed By Steve Stred
I’ve only read Mark Allan Gunnells short stories, which have all been fantastic.
In fact, several of his stories in ‘The Daylight Will Not Save You’ are easily among the best short stories I’ve ever read.
Oddly, I’ve not yet read any of his longer works, so when ‘Before He Wakes’ was offered up, I was intrigued by the synopsis. It reminded me a bit of the movies ‘Don’t Breathe’ and ‘Green Room’ which I enjoyed. Movies where people are trapped and they have to figure out a way to survive.
Knowing Mark’s way with words, I wasn’t worried about this using sheer extreme horror to try and move the plot along (think the soulless wump-wump of ‘The Summer I Died’), but would instead have a grounded, emotional story where the reader would be on the edge of their seats.
I was right.
What I liked: ‘Before He Wakes’ follows the story of two young people, one college male and one high school female, who’ve been abducted and are trapped in the basement of a house. They decide to work together to find some way to escape, especially as the unsettling feeling that their captor may not return starts to creep in.
I can’t say too much of the ‘why’ the captor may not return, as that was a whole other plot point that interspersed the story and ultimately comes to an emotional and massively mind-blowing finale which was very well done. But just know, Mark uses that portion of the novel to ramp up the tension and readers are in for a treat.
This book positively drips tension. As the story progresses, Mark ramps it up and even when we think we’re about to experience elation and freedom and sweet, sweet success – well, you’ll need to read this yeah?
The characters were all really well done and while this doesn’t fall into a full-on “monsters in the closet jump out” horror story, the creep factor is high and the subtle character shifts due to starvation, isolation and ultimately realization are really well done.
What I didn’t like: While the story itself was absolutely spot on, I did find a few times I had to suspend my disbelief that a captor (Big Daddy) this prepared would leave such random and convenient objects around. Granted, he didn’t suspect that any of the people in the basement would make any progress in escaping, but still, some of it was a bit convenient.
Why you should buy this: If you’ve not read any of Mark Allan Gunnells’ work, this would be a fantastic place to start. We get some truly relatable characters and the side stories about the agony their families are going through as their loved ones are missing was the cherry on top. As I mentioned, this book is a masterclass on tension and I had to stay up and finish it last night, needing to know what happened.
Fans of Mark’s work will be in for a treat as this shows just why he’s a writer you need to read.
Outstanding work and now that I’ve read this novel, I’ll need to bump some of his other works I have up the TBR. Well done.
KR: You can find out why Mark Allan Gunnells writes horror in an extremely personal post HERE
Before He Wakes
Patrick and Clare wake up trapped in a basement, a thin wall separating their cells. Their captor is mysteriously absent, which at first seems like a blessing. As more time passes with no food or water, they begin to realize a clock is ticking for their survival.
Combining their intelligence and determination, the two begin plotting an escape from their shared prison. Overcoming each obstacle only presents another obstacle standing in the way of their freedom. It will take all of their ingenuity and strength to find their way out of this mess.
They know their captor is still out there, and it is only a matter of time before he returns.
Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.
He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.
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