"Dead Ends" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Flame Tree Press

dead ends marc e fitch poster large

Written by Marc E. Fitch
2023, 336 pages, Fiction
Released on 15th August 2023

Review:

Upon realising there was a new Marc E. Fitch novel on the horizon, I could not hide my excitement, as Boy in the Box (2020) is easily one of the very best horror novels of the last decade. It is a tragedy this truly terrifying book does not pick up more press or reader buzz and is the ultimate hair-raiser of a camping trip gone wrong in the Adirondack Mountains. It oozes menace, threat and has a brilliantly shrouded and bleak supernatural twist which rips your throat out with its memorable ending. If you have never heard of Boy in the Box, do yourself a favour and read that along with Dead Ends. Both are published by Flame Tree Press on their impressive "Fiction Without Frontiers" range.

I went into Dead Ends knowing zero about it, the simple fact Marc E. Fitch had a new novel was more than enough to hook me in and shunt it straight to the top of my TBR pile. Dead Ends is a highly original and decidedly odd dark drama which encompasses small-town horror, paranoia, families in crisis, politics, gossip, social problems and a house which may or not be haunted. There is a lot of ambiguity in this perfectly pitched novel and it would undoubtedly have been much easier to write a story about an ‘evil’ house which infects or pollutes the area around it than the much subtler whispering and twitching drama Fitch delivers.

Think back to Traffic (2001), the Oscar-winning film by Steven Soderbergh, which involves a series of stories connected to the war on drugs and then loosely strings them together. Dead Ends does exactly this, but the stories are much more closely connected. There are four key narratives, all of which are living normal middle-class suburban lives in a small community on the outskirts of a city. When the story opens, a sixteen-year-old teenager is hiding out and smoking dope in an abandoned dilapidated house close to where he lives. In subsequent chapters, we discover much more about Lucas Lovett and his many problems (standard teenage delinquent stuff) from the other characters. One of the great strengths of Dead Ends is that the clever rotating perspective allows us to see each of the characters from multiple (and often unkind) perspectives.

The main thrust of the story is built around the ripple effect the huge fire which destroys the Widner house causes in the local neighbourhood, particularly Ridgewood Drive, where all the main players live. Just to be clear, Dead Ends is a very bleak and downbeat book, as none of the characters are particularly happy or content with their lives and are ultra-quick to point the finger of blame somebody else for their troubles. At various points, the narrative explores the fear of who “they” or “them” are, some sort of metaphysical boogieman which is going to rape their woman and steal their children. The problem is nobody can define who “they” are, perhaps some big bad wolf wearing city clothing, and the answer is to buy more guns or demonise the teenager Lucas Lovett.

Lovett is strangely and enticingly absent from most of Dead Ends but nevertheless dominates proceedings after he becomes the prime suspect in burning the house and then disappears when the locals declare him the poster boy for delinquent youth and the faults of the nation. Even though the novel might be too slow for some, the escalation of events is incredibly realistic and the shocking turn at around 50% particularly caught me on the hop and off-guard. Even beyond the four main narratives there are other characters who contribute much to the proceedings, including the young journalist; the dissatisfied work colleague who wants to take the streets back; and the policeman who is the 911 responder to the escalating incidents.

All four narratives are equally convincing and I really felt for John Ballard, who is dealing with both marital and a drink problem. His wife Jessica is at the end of her tether and John is at war with the world and becomes obsessed with the fire, Lovett’s seemingly obvious guilt and the fact the police do nothing eats him up. Vernon Trimble looks after his Alzheimer’s ridden elderly mother; he is unable to cope but knows if his mother ends up in a care facility then he will lose his home. He is also a true crime buff and he and John feed each other’s obsession.

Elizabeth Tutt is an elected local politician and is called a “Hillary Wannabe” by her neighbours and is treated like an outsider, as she has only lived there for a couple of years. Single, she hopes to get re-elected but struggles to connect with those she is supposed to represent. However, shortly after the fire, she is plagued by her door being repeatedly knocked by a phantom caller very late at night, which brings her into the folds of the newly formed Neighbourhood Watch led by John and Vernon. Amber Locke has the final plotline, an unsatisfied housewife with a husband, two sons and two huge untrained dogs she hates. Amber feels trapped in her life and is scared her fifteen-year-old son is heading down the same dangerous path as Lucas Lovett, with whom he is friends. On the surface everybody is fine, but when you scratch the surface….

I do not want to say much about any potential supernatural events and the ripple effect the house has on the story, as your interpretation of this part of the horrifying events which unfold might be different from mine. The end of the novel is truly haunting; however, I had a feeling in my guts that might be the case with very normal people doing horrible things, with the novel having a lot to say about modern-day America, gun crime and why many feel they are forgotten by the system or have a voice which is ignored. Or maybe I’m reading too much into Dead Ends? Who knows, either way it is an outstanding follow-up to (and completely different from) Boy in the Box.

Grades:

Overall: 5 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
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Buy from Amazon UK.
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Buy from BAM.

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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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