Shelter For The Damned: Mike Thorn
Reviewed By Steve Stred
Having been a fan of Mike’s collection ‘Darkest Hours’ and his Demain Short! Sharp! Shocks! release ‘Dreams of Lake Drukka/Exhumation’ I was excited to see what he had in store for us for his first novel, ‘Shelter for the Damned.’
His story that appeared in the anthology ‘Prairie Gothic’ revolved around a house that wasn’t a house and was fantastic, so seeing what the synopsis of this was, I was very intrigued to dive in and discover what new nightmares he’d conjured for us.
Ultimately, this one was an odd read. Parts I absolutely loved and parts that really ground my gears. When all was said and done and I finished the book, I sat back and thought about it and wondered if maybe this release had started life as a screenplay. I know Mike’s a massive cinephile and there were some sections in here that read very much like it was written in script format and then transferred over into the novel. When I started to consider it in that aspect, I think some things clicked for me in a way they hadn’t when I initially read it.
What I liked: The story follows Mark, a teen kid who struggles to control his impulses. We get told he’s dealt with counselling already as well as multiple run-ins with school administration, but ultimately he isn’t sure why he acts as he does. Scott and Adam, Mark’s two best friends are hanging out with him when they find a random shack in a field, one they’ve never seen before.
Thorn uses that point to jump off into a story that focuses on a portal that soothes Mark’s shattered nerves but also feeds into his impulses and works to make him act out.
For me, the highlights were when Mark was interacting with the shack and the ‘inhabitants’ and struggling to come to grips with what they need him to do. In those moments Mark was a very believable character, one that you felt for and desperately wished he’d make the right choice.
What I didn’t like: The story attempts to have a few additional plotlines within, one about toxic masculinity and one about abusive parents. For me personally, I found that it made for difficult sections where the dialogue and interactions were off and didn’t feel like how real people would speak.
As well, and this leads back to my screenplay theory, the ending lost some impact from it being described from a phone call, instead of an actual action description.
One thing I’ll note – I wasn’t completely sure when/what year this takes place or exactly how old the kids were. This did make it tough at times with how the story was unfolding. There were no cell phones throughout, people instead phoning on landlines, yet in one instance with a homeless man, he mentions kids were beating him up while filming with a camcorder to load on Youtube. It threw me for a loop, as if Youtube exists, cell phones exist. Saying that – where I grew up, cell phone reception is still incredibly spotty and just last year, in 2020, they finally stopped using dial-up internet. Even where I live now, in the capital city of Alberta, you can drive for a few hours in any direction and find yourself out of cell service/range. So, in that aspect, I accepted the reality of no cell phones, but it may grind on some readers.
Why you should buy this: Thorn gives us a slow burn story that shows a kid spiral as the shack he loves hooks its tentacles into him and begins to distort right from wrong. Matt is a kid you want to root for and ultimately succeed, but in classic horror fashion, you just know that this won’t happen. Fans of Barker’s The Hellbound Heart will see similarities with Matt’s story arc and there are some amazingly grotesque moments that’ll make fans of horror happy.
Shelter For The Damned
While looking for a secret place to smoke cigarettes with his two best friends, troubled teenager Mark discovers a mysterious shack in a suburban field. Alienated from his parents and peers, Mark finds within the shack an escape greater than anything he has ever experienced.
But it isn’t long before the place begins revealing its strange, powerful sentience. And it wants something in exchange for the shelter it provides.
Shelter for the Damned is not only a scary, fast-paced horror novel, but also an unflinching study of suburban violence, masculine conditioning, and adolescent rage.
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.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website here