Tom Leveen: Heartless
Reviewed by D.K. Hundt
Braving the torrid Arizona climate, protagonist Baylee Ross, in Tom Leveen’s contemporary horror novel, Heartless, finds herself in the middle of a real-life Urban Legend starring Springheel Jack, a murderous figure from the 19th century. When her only living relative—her older brother—becomes one of the bloodthirsty creatures, Baylee’s sole chance to turn him back rests with the only people inclined to believe her story: her brother’s nerdy RPG gamer friends.
I can honestly say that I was pulled into Tom Leveen’s novel from the very first sentence “He died painfully, in white-hot agony only truly expressed in poetry,” and I eagerly followed along to find out who died and why in such an eloquent and assuredly grotesque fashion. I wasn’t disappointed. Now, I won’t reveal to you any spoilers, but I will tell you that after reading this novel in its entirety, I definitely got a Stranger Things/Silver Bullet vibe that I like. Some may say that the Urban Legend cinematic trope has been done to death, but that hasn’t stopped this eager viewer, along with millions of others, from planting our wide-eyed selves in front of a glowing screen, binge-watching the latest Netflix series. I think this curiosity, at least for me, still holds true in literary and genre fiction, as it did when I first read – and can’t get enough of – the stylistic prose in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which, like Heartless, may or may not make believers out of all of us.
Leveen is certainly not lacking in his ability to create characters that are relatable, and frankly, the dialogue his characters use reminds me of my teenage children only a few years ago. I especially like the feistiness of skateboarding Krista and her unapologetic banter with tobacco chewing, “Dungeon Master” Ralph. The callousness of Eli, call me “Elijah,” is both believable and heartbreaking at the same time, which adds a deeper meaning to the title.
The one disappointment I had while reading this novel, is a lack of what I call the “shock factor” within the narrative. You know, those slap your readers in the face moments, while the author casually has one of their character’s ordering two extra shots of espresso at the local Starbucks, the author then slips in a bit of foreshadowing by way of sneaky prose about said character getting hit by a bus in the near or distant future. Love it! There is a slow build in tension as we get closer to the climax in Heartless, but nothing that makes me stand up and shout “I can’t believe that just happened!” I think if we hadn’t been told in the back-cover description of the book that Baylee’s brother is now the newest member of Springheel Jack’s crew, it would have created that slow tension fueled build that would have kept me on the edge of my seat with white-knuckled anticipation. In all due fairness, this is the first book I’ve read by Bram Stoker Award nominee Tom Leveen (Sick; Shackled), but I assure you it won’t be the last. I’ve already purchased Sick, and I’m dying to read it!
In closing, and just as a side note, if you look at these reviews as the “Gospel Truth” regarding the literary value of a book, then I urge you not to. If what the reviewer says, or the description of the book itself sparks your interest, then by all means, take a bite and delve into the creative mind of the author, and perhaps you too will be asking yourself as I did at the end of this story “What price would I be willing to pay for immortality?”
Bram Stoker Award nominee Tom Leveen (Sick; Shackled) asks: What price will you pay for immortality?
Urban legends of a murderous figure called Springheel Jack date back to the 19th century. What Baylee is about to learn is that “he” is most certainly for real…and not alone. When her only living relative—her older brother—becomes one of the bloodthirsty creatures, Baylee’s sole chance to turn him back rests with the only people inclined to believe her story: her brother’s nerdy RPG gamer friends.
D. K. Hundt is an American writer with a BA degree in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. When she’s not writing contemporary fiction and horror/supernatural stories, she likes to spend her free time working as a volunteer in her community, being a minion for her cat Simon, warding off carnivorous spiders, and throwing herself into and around the dark alleyways of Stephen King novels in search of inspiration. D. K. resides in California with her husband, and she is currently working on a horror novel titled, Cheveyo–a story about a young boy who goes to live with his grandpa on a reservation, and soon discovers that the malevolent creatures that lurk in the Okanogan Forest aren’t the only deadly secret the locals are hiding.
You can follow D.K. on Twitter @DKHundt1
Please visit D.K.’s official website www.dkhundt.com