BOOK REVIEW: The Roger Huntington Saga
– By Dave Dubrow
The Roger Huntington Saga, a series of three horror novels by Ryan C Thomas, has more than enough spilled blood, severed body parts, and general mutilation for the most bloodthirsty reader. You want rape? It’s in there. Searing flesh? Smell the smoke, baby: it’s barbecue time. Crying and throwing up? In spades. So yeah, it’s got it all.
Except a reason to care.
Despite some rather strained metaphors and a few wrong word choices throughout all three books, the writing is fine. The first-person perspective doesn’t do the narrative any favors because it entirely eliminates any sense of tension regarding the protagonist’s fate: you know good old Roger’s going to make it through all this to tell the tale. Where the series failed for me was its lack of heart. The characters weren’t terribly likable, particularly Roger, so the saga came off as an exercise in brutality committed against people I had no investment in.
The series begins with The Summer I Died, where Roger and his friend Tooth go into the sticks to do some target shooting, are captured by a sadistic maniac, and get tortured in a basement for about 70% of the book. Fans of the Hostel movies will enjoy this novel. The author’s obvious unfamiliarity with handguns showed itself most egregiously in the use of the term “clip” (it’s a magazine, not a clip), the notion that a formerly-owned handgun somehow has “off-targeting”, and the description of the protagonist’s erection when firing a revolver. So the guns-as-penises concept was on full display, described by someone who knows very little about shooting. This will probably not bother most readers, but it does go to author credibility. Issues of God and faith were shoehorned into the story with limited success.
In book two, Born to Bleed, Roger winds up in similar circumstances, making him the unluckiest protagonist in horror history. Here, however, he becomes involved in a more disturbing plot that provides reasons for some of the killing, raping, torture, and mutilation. Once again guns come up, and once again the author’s obvious winging it becomes clear. Roger opines, “That’s why your typical gun magazine is laden with trite articles on proper cleaning techniques, about how to keep all the springs and levers well-oiled to avoid snags.” No. That’s not correct. Gun mags don’t have articles about proper cleaning techniques. I know, because I used to read them. All of them. For years as part of my job. They have articles about models of firearms, tactics, carry/concealment, and many other subjects, but not cleaning techniques. They just don’t. You don’t have to be a gun nut to want the author to know what he’s writing about. That quibble aside, too much of the plot moved forward because everyone else made foolish and/or inexplicable decisions.
The series wraps up with Scars of the Broken. This is the most plot-heavy of the saga, which is welcome; here Roger has a purpose and a reason to do things instead of just not die horribly. It takes place mostly in Germany, and the author makes sure that American readers don’t get onto their moral high horses when it comes to the German unpleasantness of the early-mid 20th century (you know, WWII): “You might not like what happened here before you were even born, but don’t point fingers unless you want to listen to how the world views the Gulf Wars.” Let that bit of moral equivalence sink in a little. As the story moves on, we meet other characters, all of whom are entirely unfriendly to Roger, each other, and everyone else, so it becomes hard to give a damn about any of them because they’re just so unpleasant. More handgun inaccuracies are described, like a gun that might buck left or right in the hand when fired. (That’s not how guns work.) Knives are inserted into brain stems, but the victims don’t die (the brain stem is what controls things like breathing and the heartbeat, so once that goes, you’re dead). Roger survives, so there may be a fourth book forthcoming.
Obviously, every book review is a subjective exercise, and it may be that you’ll really like the Roger Huntington Saga, despite (or because of) my concerns with it. It just had story issues that I found too difficult to look past. In the introduction to The Summer I Died, Cody Goodfellow says of Ryan C Thomas, “He is that guy you wanted to be when you were ten.”
No he isn’t, and maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy the series as much as I might have.