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"Those Who Came Before" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Flame Tree Press

Those Who Came Before J H Moncrieff Large

Written by J.H. Moncrieff
2019, 256 pages, Fiction
Released on 24th October 2019

Review:

After reading twenty pages of J.H. Moncrieff’s Those Who Came Before, I had the sinking feeling that I had been there before, many times. The opening has a distinct creature feature vibe with four dumb kids being stalked and butchered by a vicious beast lurking in the forest. Thankfully it amounts to much more and I was delighted I never gave up the ghost too soon, as this highly entertaining novel does not disappoint. Yes, there is a creature, but it is only part of a more complex and intelligent narrative.

Large sections of Those Who Came Before is narrated in the first person by Reese, who is in his early twenties and about to finish college. He is travelling with his girlfriend Jessica and their two friends Kira and Dan to a campsite where they intend to spend the weekend. However, Reese and Jessica spend much of the time arguing, and if it was not for the terrific sex, he would probably have dumped her. Upon arrival they are dismayed to find the camp already closed for the season and they unwisely break into Camp Strong Lake, which is built upon an Indian Reservation. Jessica continues to moan and the two men look for wood to burn and stumble upon a huge diseased tree and chop off a few branches. None of the four are having any fun and are thinking of cutting their losses and heading home early the next day.

Thus far the novel could be lifted straight out of any number of slasher films or stories, but it makes an unexpected and welcome turn into fresher territory. As Jessica is still pissed at Reece, she bunks up with Kira, much to Reece’s dismay for the lack of potential make-up sex. He wakes up the next morning and realises his three friends are dead; Dan’s head rolls out of his sleeping bag and comes to rest beside his foot. At this point the book picks up a gear and has much more to it than Big Foot romping in the woods with three of what looks like the main characters killed in the opening sequences. With most other areas of the book I will be intentionally vague to avoid spoilers, but there are plenty of entertaining twists and turns.

We then jump to the other main character, Native American detective Maria Greyeyes; her heritage plays a key element to the story, as Those Who Came Before also has much to say about the present situation of the indigenous population. I find this part of the story thoughtful and cleverly blended within the structure of a supernatural thriller. Greyeyes begins to investigate and wonders why does Reece not have any memory of the killings?  She does not believe him to be guilty, but at the same time the lack of other suspects is alarming. Feeling the pressure to crack the case, she turns to the local reservation police and is shunned, as they believe the campground to be cursed and is totally avoided by the local tribe. Strangely, when we see the story from Maria’s point of view, it is told in the third person. This is odd, but it does not hold the story back.

Maria Greyeyes is a great character and although she is Native American, she is torn between being a modern policewoman and old cultural traditions, an angle which gives the book an extra dimension.  It is also her first big murder case and she does not wish to lose it to another area of the police force should she fail to make progress. Initially Reece is very open with the police, but as the evidence mounts, up the story begins to get more complex.

The campground is bleakly described and although the four kids visit when it is closed, one wonders why anybody would want to stay there at all. It oozes negative vibes. A couple of the characters swear they hear a voice saying, “You’re not welcome here,” and that is seriously unsettling. Those Who Came Before has a number of excellent moments, including convincing dream sequences which are so vivid they must be read, and great flashbacks to much earlier in the history of the native tribe. The scene where Reece visits the parents of his murdered girlfriend is equally impressive.

I have already noted this is much more than a monster novel and the way in which the supernatural element of the story fans out is very cleverly played with a seriously sinister amulet, curses, and the impact on the detective’s marriage and sanity. As a certain point you will most likely see where the novel is going, but this does not detract from a superior horror novel which spares a thought for injustices suffered by Native Americans without blatantly ramming the issue down your throat.

Grades:

Overall: Fourstars Those Who Came Before J H Moncrieff Small
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Those Who Came Before J H Moncrieff Small
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About The Author
Tony Staff
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Writer
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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