Review: Queensboro by Thomas Drago

★★★★½ Queensboro by Thomas Drago

Content warning for child abduction and abuse of a sexual nature, as well as the use of racist and offensive language.

When model fourth grade student Ashley Smith breaks her zero-absence record at Crow Creek Elementary, everyone is immediately on edge. When Sheriff Brad Gleason calls a search, something far worse than anyone could have imagined is found, and once more the town of Crow Creek must handle loss at the hands of the simply unexplainable.

Meanwhile,  an ex-employee of Carolina EnTech turns up worse than dead in a local diner, spurring the only witness curious enough to drive him to explore the terrible consequences of an old project, as well as a new owner of the doomed firm. The Red Queen reigns unstoppable in Queensboro by Thomas Drago.

The book isn’t precisely a sequel to its predecessor Crow Creek. While the book uses the same settings, and many characters that were previously explored, this is some years on from the events of Crow Creek. Therefore the events of Queensboro do not directly follow on. This means that it isn’t at all necessary to have read Drago’s first book but it is of benefit. Understanding certain details that carry over is useful, such as the role of the pastors, the significance of several passings, and the attitudes of the townspeople — especially when the subject of the death of the youth and the weather strikes unusual chords — but these are only minor points where a new reader may feel as if they are missing something. The lack of  any mention of the relationship of the two books is understandable, though it may have been useful to note for those who enjoyed one and would have been interested in the other.

While distinct in plot, and taking place in other locations across the Haw River, several patent elements the author has chosen to carry over include the strong small-town NC attitude and unrepentantly ugly aspects that are packaged with it, including unsettling levels of casual racism, ableism, and other boldly offensive mannerisms that go unchallenged by the townspeople. While good at maintaining the mild unpleasantness and some level of believability of the setting, this ugly tone that washes through the book is draining at times, and affects almost every character, good or bad. There are very few true heroes or saints in Queensboro, despite religion running strong in the towns’ collective thinking.

However, this muddying means that the real bad apples of Haw River are genuine monsters. If the brief description above wasn’t enough to hint it, anyone with a sensitivity to gore, death, or the all but explicit sexual abuse of children should be fairly and firmly warned that there are deeply unsettling events that spur the book into action, and that’s merely the start of things. Still, there is a human element to the antagonists, even if at some point that antagonizing force includes electric man-eating worms. Suffice to say, there’s a drop of humor in the mix that keeps things just light enough at points to stomach the serious and horrific content that makes up many other parts of the read.

For those who enjoy the more gratuitous and depraved of urban fantasy and mystery, Queensboro does a lot of things right. The wide cast and quite unique plot remains solid, and the whole piece holds strong despite splitting into several parts and multiple points of view, all in an unusual and deeply-ingrained Bible Belt setting. The book is not only viscerally terrifying, but terrifyingly full of viscera.

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