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The Dead Girls Club Damien Angelica Waters Main

"The Dead Girls Club" Book Review

Written by Shane D. Keene

Published by Crooked Lane Books

the dead girls club damien angelica waters poster large

Written by Damien Angelica Walters
2019, 280 pages, Fiction
Released on December 10, 2019

Review:

I think it’s a pretty safe bet the vast majority of us have secrets they share with no one; those old bones that rattle around in the closets of our souls and only come out to play, to tease, to haunt after the lights go out. Not always, but usually, they’re the spring that serves the rivers of insecurity many of us find ourselves victim to, the source of anxieties, doubts, and even fear. Yet, uncomfortable though they may be, we remain endlessly fascinated by the subject. That there may be some inherent flaw or thread of darkness that runs through us is a theme that writers love to write and readers love to read and it permeates our fictions. Sometimes such stories can fall flat with us for the very reasons I’ve listed above. They’re so prevalent in life and in literature as to become nearly commonplace and boring. But when shaped and handled by the hands of a true master, they become a thing of great beauty and a source of endless dread. Damien Angelica Walters is just such an artist and The Dead Girls Club is just such a book.

If there’s one type of story that is more than passing rare in the horror genre, it’s the coming-of-age tale told from a female point of view. They are, in fact, so uncommon that I can’t think of a single one off the top of my head. But with this new novel from Crooked Lane, Damien Angelica Walters has penned the definitive coming-of-age tale, a feminist nightmare that might be crime or it might be horror. Might be both, but I’m not gonna spill. What I will tell you is this: I have a number of “best of year” books for 2019, but three of them are running neck and neck for first place and The Dead Girls Club is one of them. For the sake of your edification and because you should buy them, the other two are John F.D. Taff’s The Fearing and Hank Early’s Echoes of the Fall. But it’s Damien’s book I’m here to talk about, so grab a beverage and a snack and get yourself comfy. I have much to say.

Most people have secrets. Some worse than others and some so terrible they’re never shared even with our closest confidants. In the case of Heather Cole, Damien’s protagonist and narrator, it’s one so desperate it could destroy her hard-earned career and her marriage if it ever comes out. But the skeletons in her closet have ceased merely rattling and began to pound on the door with a sledgehammer and Heather has nowhere to turn. Someone knows her secret and seems to be trying to drive her slowly insane, sprinkling little clues throughout the story, and leading her to question everyone’s trustworthiness, even that of her husband. Because when the mystery you’re harboring is the murder of a childhood friend, spilling the beans has the potential to bring your whole world crashing down. Heather is all alone and must rely on her own fraying wits to try and solve the riddle before everything falls apart.

There are many things about The Dead Girls Club that make the book work taking it from average horror/mystery fare and transforming it into something special and transgressive. It’s riddled with varying themes, phobias, and ambiguities, and the pacing is pitch-perfect, leaving you little to no time to stop and try to figure out all the disparate mysteries that make up the whole. But those are all just icing on this cake of many layers and the real magic comes in the form of a few different things, not least of which is the absolutely stunning character study at its center. Heather is a perfectly flawed, delightfully unreliable narrator who, in spite of some questionable moral choices, wins your heart all the same and makes you want to immerse yourself in the deep darkness of her plight. Walters, an obvious student of the human condition, has developed one of the most believable characters I’ve read all year. one who, like most humans, is a mixture of enigma and contradiction. She’s broken and easy to identify with, sympathetic and three-dimensional in ways that very few authors can match and none I know of can best. Add to that a fantastic supporting cast, most of who are harboring their own ghosts, and you have one of the most finely crafted works of the century so far.

Along with those nearly perfect character arcs, Damien also happens to be a master of the English language, her prose both dark and gorgeous while very often being concise and straight to the point. Her adeptness as a storyteller is completely unmatched in either of the two genre pools this tale swims in. So much so, you fail to see the underlying craft, becoming caught up in vivid visuals she paints on her pages and on your brain to such a degree you forget you’re even reading a book. You find yourself so fully immersed in Heather’s plight and the mystery and legend surrounding the immensely terrifying Red Lady as to completely lose track of time and sense of self. Yes, Damien Angelica Walters is that talented and this book is that good. The author has a way with words that is inescapable and utterly unforgettable, deviously soothing and darkly ominous:

I’ve done everything possible to keep that summer, to keep what transpired, tucked away in a tiny, impenetrable box, but the necklace, this necklace, is the key. The lock shatters. I’m no Pandora releasing evil into the world. This is a private apocalypse. Devastation for one, ma’am? A potent vintage.

What happens when dark secrets begin to crack around the edges, when the safety net you’ve fabricated begins to fray and come apart? What happens when the monsters you’ve locked away tear the door off the hinges, threatening to expose you to everyone including, in the long term, yourself? In The Dead Girls Club, Damien Angelica Walters asks and answers those questions in the menacingly magical fashion that only she is capable of, leaving you at the end in horror, heartbreak, and more than a small helping of wonder. If you’ve not read her work yet, this is the time, and wherever you are is the place. Grab yourself a copy of this outstanding novel and find out what you’re missing.

Grades:

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

About The Author
Shane D. Keene
Staff Writer
Shane Douglas Keene is a reviewer, columnist, and poet living in Portland, Oregon. He spends his spare time drinking scotch and/or beer, playing guitar, and thinking of ways to scare small children and puppies. He pays meticulous attention to beard maintenance, mostly because it freaks people out, and he writes about dark fiction and poetry in various places, including his blog at Shotgun Logic.
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