Don’t Fear the Reaper is the second book in the Lake Witch trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for My Heart is a Chainsaw.

dont fear the reaperThe year is 2019 and a snow storm is descending on the town of Proofrock. Jennifer Daniels has returned, released from prison after four years of legal wranglings, but she has no time to rest. A prison transport has crashed, its passenger the notorious serial killer Dark Mill South, and he’s heading straight towards Proofrock.

The real proof will be whether bullets can stop him or not. If they can. then he’s a serial killer. If it takes a final girl to put him down, though, then he was a slasher all along.

My forays into horror fiction have been fleeting but overall positive of late, but Don’t Fear the Reaper stepped over a line for me and I’ve been trying to work out exactly why that is. Its predecessor, My Heart is a Chainsaw, wasn’t exactly tame with a bloody finale in the lake, Jaws playing in the background as Stacey Graves slashed her way through the population of Proofrock. But I liked it a whole lot more than its sequel.

Jade is a hard to love character that I ending up loving anyway, and I liked her return with a more mature mindset after her time in prison. She was never convicted, but the high-profile trial dragged on. She has missed a lot in those four years, but now she’s back in town and prefers to be called Jennifer. She also says she is over the horror film stuff.

The girl who believed in slashers, that was somebody else. This Jennifer doesn’t even wear eyeliner anymore, and all the videotapes she used to have had to have been burned in a bonfire years ago already, just to watch that iridescent tape writhe.

I loved the final girls reunite trope, with Letha dealing with the horrific injury Stacey gave her, and also raising her child. Her bond with Jade/Jennifer is the best part, they both see each other as the final girl. I also found the townspeople felt more welcoming, more like a community. Maybe this is Jade’s more mature outlook on life, or maybe the survivors of the Independence Day Massacre have pulled together.

Where Stacey Graves was a supernatural big bad with a  reason for revenge, Dark Mill South is human and alive. An escaped prisoner who was supposedly showing the authorities where the bodies were buried when he escapes. He kills for the pleasure of it, and he takes great pleasure in some very gruesome acts. As a reader, am I more forgiving of supernatural violence? Stephen Graham Jones at least managed to get a visceral reaction out of me, so I can’t say he didn’t write this well, but it did nearly make me DNF in several places.

I do wonder if this is trying to make a point about the evolution of horror films. Jade repeatedly fails to get the references to recent films, because she’s been behind bars and she’s also trying to not be so nerdy about them (there’s a new character who is a big horror nerd and Jade finds him annoying, reflecting on how she must have came across). The films referenced in Chainsaw were mostly classics, violent in their time, but they kind of had a logic all the same.

I don’t watch a huge amount of horror, but there was a point where films did seem to be just trying to outdo themselves on shock value and gore. Perhaps we have now returned to more thoughtful, psychological horror now, which is what I am drawn to both in reading and watching.

There was a supernatural aspect to the story, but this was quite minor. I was a bit confused with the twins, not really remembering much about them from the first book. And as the reveal came I think it’s meant to be confusing, but it was a bit distracting. I also struggled to place who was writing the essays to the teacher (it’s obviously not Jade, who wrote them in Chainsaw).

I haven’t got to the end and sworn off the writer or even the trilogy. I will probably pay close attention to reviews before picking up the final book though. I do want to know what happens to the surviving characters, but I don’t want them up against another killer like Dark Mill South! Since this book is set at the end of 2019, I wonder if the next will be set during a lockdown or if that’s still considered out of bonds for the horror genre…

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