Nostalgia. It’s a funny word, one that has resonant meaning to me. It brings about fond memories of many an evening, tucked up in bed, sipping a cold Pepsi and reading a good book. My reading taste has varied over the years, from the obvious Laymon, King and Hutson, to the more secretive aspect of my reading library in Enid Blyton, The Three Investigators and Sherlock Holmes. Where these aren’t a surprise to a few – hello, Mum – they helped shape my book taste to this very day. True, I love a good horror, but I started off humble and basic, with books that spoke of childhood adventure and discovery.
So, what has this got to do with my review today? We’ll get to that in a second.
Aftertaste is the third book from Kyle M. Scott (following his impressive debut, Consumed Volume 1 and his excellent follow up, Devil’s Day – scroll down my blog for the review). Plainfield, Ohio, a normal town in the heart of America. When Waldo’s Burger Emporium comes to town, their very first fast food restaurant, nearly everyone is eager to get their hands, and mouths, on the delicacies within. Some inhabitants aren’t so welcoming, preferring their health to the processed food. However, this turns out to be a wise move when they discover something isn’t quite right with Waldo’s…which is when people start to act a little weird…
I’ve said this many times – horror always works best when reality plays a key part. Fast food has long been the bane of many a celebrity chef, conscious parent or health freak, gradually addicting people to its SMG goodness and ‘I’ll just have one more’ mentality. How many people do we know that can’t resist one more takeaway or an extra portion of fries? It’s a constant trope in society, one that doesn’t look like disappearing anytime soon. The human mind is fickle, it seems, when food can be served so ‘quickly.’ In a world where speed is king and time is cherished, the problem is everygrowing. In fact, with a society dominated by consumerism, dietary advice and warning labels on every piece of food from here to Texas, it’s a surprise that Aftertaste wasn’t written sooner.
I’m glad it wasn’t. Scott takes an issue that many take for granted and turns it into a horror masterpiece.
From the very first page, the threat of Waldo’s is clear. A graphic set piece, which will change your outlook on trapped wind and hamburgers forever, opens the book in gory, blood soaked style. From that point, the book is a relentless juggernaut. Much like his previous book, Scott develops a likeable set of characters – a bunch of teenagers this time, some intelligent, some sexy, some dumb – who become the emotional heft of the tale. As their town – and fellow man – crumbles in chaos around them, we are with them every step of the way. We see what happens, we live it, feel it and, at times, you can even smell it. One particular scene sees a chubby girl shovelling food into her face. I couldn’t help but smell a McDonald’s on the air, envisioning myself sat opposite her, staring in disgust and amazement. The detail, the nuance of the story itself, the little touches, they really bring the book to life. If you’ve been to KFC or Burger King, this book will make you think twice. Ever considered a salad instead? After reading this, you just might.
As the book rolls along, picking up pace with every chapter, Scott doesn’t skimp on the good stuff. Blood? Check. Violence? Check? Sex? Check. There are lashings of these, to suit everyone. People die, people copulate and people attack one another, sometimes combining all of the three in some of the most graphic sex scenes since Society in 1989. Some may find it too much – be warned, Scott pulls no punches -, but in the context of the story, it works perfectly. Once again, much like Devil’s Day before it, we get a sense of unpredictability with the characters. We love them, we hate them, but we never really know who is safe from the chop at any given time. This uneasiness adds to the tension of the piece, where anything can happen purely because the inhabitants of Plainfield have no control…which is horror 101. If we can predict it, it’s no fun. Aftertaste, thankfully, is a lot of fun…just don’t eat it with a Big Mac in your hand.
The setting is familiar, the characters developed in scenes of immense horror, scenes which have been written by a scribe with a firm knowledge of his genre. Scott knows how to scare, to repulse and to generate emotion. Which brings me to my original point: Nostalgia. Aftertaste is written in such a way that you relive your childhood adventures. My teen years flew by all too quickly, but Aftertaste brought them crashing back to me in a heartbeat. The highs, the lows, the epic fails in young love, and the self discovery. True, I never visited a Waldo’s in my youth, that may have changed the outlook of this review drastically, but I did spend a lot of time at the local Wimpy, chase after a girl or two that were way out of my league and I also sought those urban legends, the horror stories that might not have been true but made the imagination fun again. A wasted youth? Maybe, but it was how we lived before the internet and Facebook and mobile phones. I may have read a lot of books, but I still had time to explore, make friends and discover the world of a teenager. Simpler times, ones I remember fondly. When a book can generate this reaction in a reader, you know you’re onto a winner.
So, five stars? Of course. Kyle M. Scott nailed my favourite book of the year in 2014. He’s in the running for 2015 too. Aftertaste is a fine example of extreme horror, one that uses a simple plot device to devastating effect. Great characters, wonderful set pieces – watch out for the sex scene in the alley, you’ll wince – and plenty of horror for even the most rabid horror reader. Not since Richard Laymon have I enjoyed reading someone’s work so much…which is ironic because if Scott carries on like this, we may have found a successor to the great man himself. An excellent read.