Content warning for violence, drug abuse, and sexual abuse, including that of minors.
In Iowa, 1983, when Curtis Ware is driven off the road while escaping from the scene of a drug theft, he is hospitalized for horrific injuries and charged for his crimes based on traumatized, rage-filled, drug-induced testimonies. Released after a single harrowing year in a correctional facility, he quickly grows an impressive rap sheet before moving east, to the quiet Riverside, Maine in 1990.
As the papers begin to report a surprising crime wave for the small town, first with robbery from an unmarked taxi, then with a brutal disturbance from a cocaine-fueled carnival magician, Curtis Ware gains a new, despicable reputation. When young Ace Gordon and his friends begin to run afoul of the man, they have little expectation of the kind of monster they’ve gained the attention of. Pranks turn to much darker deeds in A Stalker’s Journey by John C. Lukegord.
Previously writing the bizarre and debauched The Haunted Trail series, Lukegord has returned with another horrific tale, this time without any supernatural involvement. Clover-infused mummies and aliens are replaced with a mortal, though utterly irredeemable, almost semi-human antagonist in Curtis Ware. Worse, his loose morals only degrade further with his repeated misfortune, soon finding rigging carnival games to be just as justifiable as trying to mow down children in his car. As most typified in this co-lead, the book frequently relies on its core conceptual ugliness to do the heavy lifting with tone, pushing unpleasant subject matter at every opportunity and never quite building atmosphere or tension around it. The result is a book that pushes to extremes but fails to maintain them, leading to an overall lukewarm and moderate feeling despite its vicious stabs into what should be emotional highs.
Despite pulling together a more focused (if not more serious) piece in A Stalker’s Journey, the writing remains fuzzy, unemotive, and with patches of repetition and occasional incoherency. The book comes off more a detached report akin to old-style news readings than a work of fiction intended to thrill and horrify, making for a less flavorful and sometimes confusing and unsettling read. In the sense that the book is unsettling, Lukegord has succeeded once more, as seems to be the intent behind his work, no matter the course to doing so.
Still, while built so heavily during the first third or so of the book, Curtis and his accomplices are quickly dialled back by the almost Home Alone-esque antics of their teenaged nemeses, resulting in even more, often failed attempts at pushing boundaries as he lashes out with far less success against them than with veteran career criminals and years of lucrative con artistry. The play between the two is head-scratching, yet kind of works, somehow.
Lukegord has pulled together a fittingly menacing cover for this title that suits the story in all it’s horrible glory to a ‘T’, standing out brilliantly from anything else on the same virtual shelf. Much detail of the book is easily recognizable on this cover, deserving great praise for its representative and unique nature. If the very particular style of Lukegord’s work appeals to you, this would be a disturbing and prized item on your electronic or physical shelf as a result.