"They're Watching" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by This Is Horror
Written by Michael David Wilson & Bob Pastorella
2020, 214 pages, Fiction
Released on 31st October 2020
The hosts of the This Is Horror Podcast and brains behind the long-running This Is Horror website combine forces to deliver an entertaining horror thriller which is very easy to speed through in a few sittings. It feels shorter than the listed 214 pages and has some great hooks which will guarantee you will be desperate to find out what is store for Brian. Published around Halloween 2020, this is the first release from This Is Horror in a while, which has a superb track record, previously publishing original work from TE Grau, Ray Cluley, Stephen Graham Jones, Pat Cadigan, Joseph D’Lacey, Conrad Williams, Gary McMahon, Simon Bestwick, David Moody, Josh Malerman and Nathan Ballingrud. And if that list of authors does not impress you, then you might as well stop reading this review now! These guys know their horror from A-Z, backward and upside down.
Back in 2020, I reviewed Wilson’s The Girl in the Video novella, which is another solid read, but I much prefer this more recent offering. Perhaps it is because it is longer and feels like a more rounded and substantial read which has some small overlaps with They’re Watching, with sleazy videos being replaced by voyeurism, obsession, and spying. But who exactly is doing the spying? Things get juicily blurred as Brian realises there might be something odd about the town he has recently relocated to, but is not sure what. I have read a lot of fiction in this ballpark and even though I had a good idea where it was heading, I had a lot of fun taking the journey and it is nice to have an English setting instead of America. Britain can have weird little towns too!
After arriving a small coastal town and waiting to start his new job, Brian discovers a hole in his closet that gazes directly into his neighbours bedroom. If the flat owner was an obese 25 stone man, this might not have been such a big deal, but when he hears loud music, Brian takes a peek and discovers a gorgeous young woman who strips naked whilst dancing to her hypnotic beat. She performs at the same time every night and Brian becomes addicted to her ritual and his obsession with this sex bomb quickly escalates. This is nice writing, tapping into a fine balance between sleaze and eroticism with the sex-bomb Yuki being very easy to picture and imagine.
A key part of the success of They’re Watching is how Brian does not necessarily see himself as a peeping tom, and although he knows it is wrong, internally justifies his perving. The fun is finding out where this dodgy behaviour takes Brian as he finds himself friendless and alone in a small town where he slowly gets more paranoid, with his only contact being with his sister on Skype and a friendly barista in the local coffee shop. Even though the main character is not the sharpest tool in the box, he comes across as a likeable loser, but I wonder how female readers might react to his nighttime activities and might not be so sympathetic?
Although it does not lessen the enjoyment of They’re Watching by much, at a certain point a character is introduced which takes up a fair bit of page time, which feels like padding, and I wonder how much it added to the story. Around this time, part of the mystery element dissipates from the narrative and everything jumps far too quickly into an ending sequence which feels a tad rushed. The middle sequence of a novel is crucial to its success and not enough happens in that sequence of this book, which moves from setting the scene, through a rushed middle, into the hurried conclusion. Some might find the ending shocking, but I saw it coming and one might argue that there is not enough explanation for how everything plays out, even if some big clues are dropped along the way.
Even with this gripe I would wholeheartedly recommend They’re Watching as an entertaining quick read. It is not particularly deep or challenging and is loaded with music and film references and the occasional funny moment; at one-point poor old Brian even shits himself. Even though he is portrayed as a bit of a dope, I still felt for him as his sense of isolation and mistrust was heightened, but the pull of the beautiful women was stronger. Obsession and voyeurism are strongly connected together in They’re Watching and when, in the heat of the moment, it becomes impossible to know who to trust, and this entertaining novel captures these moments perfectly and blends them into an entertaining page-turner.
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