Plot/Idea: Lastufka has composed a gripping book that is so compelling that the reader, much like the protagonist, may have trouble falling asleep until they've finished the read. Lastufka has intertwined a complex mix of stories, featuring perspectives from a wide range of diverse characters, and touching upon important topics, including racism, corruption in politics, single mothers, disability, and police violence. He does so subtly; each piece of the story is woven together expertly, hauntingly.
Prose: Despite the large cast of the novel, the reader will not find themselves lost, even when the story jumps around to different perspectives. The author does a fantastic job of reminding the reader about past events, character nuances, or specific locations, without having it interrupt the prose or storytelling.
Originality: Face the Night has some traditional horror tropes to it: the rookie cop who just wants to do a good job but is finding himself pulled into something bigger than himself; the suffering single mother who really wants to do her best but just can't seem to catch a break; the power-hungry politician who is a confusing mix of kindhearted, selfish, and oblivious. These tropes continue throughout the novel, but they work well and give it a delicious taste of nostalgia, a callback to previous stories of fear that have tickled the imagination for decades. Lastufka has taken these tropes and added his own unique spin.
Character Development/Execution: The book flows impeccably. It is storytelling at its best: a mixture of romance, addiction, fear, and mystery.
Date Submitted: May 03, 2022
Adriana is a classic heroine, fighting for a better life for herself and her son, while her ex is a stereotypical deadbeat dad and drug user; Lastufka’s characters are consistent, but some tend toward the one dimensional. Her father, Bradley, adeptly plays the role of a corrupt, scheming mayor, and Matt Hinkley is the eager, straight-as-an-arrow cop who’s ready to swoop in and save the day for Adriana, even if it means bending the rules.
Still, the plot, in which danger from the past and the present threatens Adriana and her son as she’s trying to rebuild, will stir anticipation in readers of thrillers, although one of the story’s biggest surprises is how much information gets revealed early rather than teased out. The shocking incidents that transpire in and around the community of Cellar during a contentious mayoral race—one that Adriana’s father is determined not to lose, at any cost— reach a fever pitch with a terrible act of violence. Meanwhile, the increasing intensity of Adriana’s nightmares leaves her determined to uncover the memories she believes she’s repressed, putting her and her new friends in danger from those who would prefer the past stay buried. The cast might be familiar, but Lastufka’s storytelling keeps Face the Night suspenseful.
Takeaway: A single mother faces danger from the past and present in this engaging small-town thriller.
Great for fans of: Alex North, Stephen Graham Jones’s My Heart Is a Chainsaw.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Adriana has just become Cellar, Ohio’s first police sketch artist, with a gift for bringing her subjects to life. But when the image of a rotting, mangled face begins to invade her sketches—and her nightmares—Adriana is plunged into the depths of a terrifying mystery.
Cellar, Ohio, 1987. Adriana is a tattoo artist and broke single mother who’s putting her life together in the wake of a bad relationship with a drug-addicted ex-boyfriend and a custody fight with her own father over her young son. She’s landed a promising career as Cellar’s first police sketch artist and has discovered in herself a gift for creating picture-perfect renderings of faces she’s never seen. Adriana’s hopes for a brighter future turn nightmarish, however, when she starts drawing horrific portraits of a dead, eyeless face—a face that begins to haunt her nightmares.
Small towns are evergreen fodder for dark suspense tales. From Nancy Drew mysteries to Twin Peaks, readers never tire of the dark appeal of pulling away the folksy veneer of friendly neighbors and white picket fences to reveal the maggot-infested rot underneath. Alan Lastufka’s supernatural horror-mystery FACE THE NIGHT walks a well-worn path with its story of murder and political intrigue in a sleepy little Ohio burg. Still, it invigorates its familiar premise with craft and authenticity. Weak horror writing usually fails to engage because most of the writer’s work has gone into conjuring up a frightening premise, leaving characters as little more than pieces to be shuffled from point to point through the plot. It’s hard to feel afraid for our protagonists when readers have little emotional stake in their welfare. Lastufka, thankfully, delivers on that front. Well before the plot fireworks start, we’ve spent time getting to know Adriana and her struggle to care for her son while dealing with a grifting ex and a domineering father (who also happens to be Cellar’s mayor). The author’s ear for realistic dialogue and eye for just the right details elevate what could be stock characters into believable people. For instance, Matt Hinkley, a kind young police officer who becomes Ariana’s love interest, is the type who’s rarely presented as more than a blandly heroic plot device. Here, readers get to know his motivations and quirks, making Hinkley feel like a layered, genuine person. Even the town’s odious mayor, Bradley Krause, is given more life than your typical villain, with complex motivations and a vulnerability that makes him oddly sympathetic.
Studded with references to Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, and Ghostbusters, the novel’s 1980s setting—like a grown-up version of Stranger Things—feels authentic and personal, as does Lastufka’s evocation of the culture and provincial drama of a small Midwestern town. The plot is very much a slow burn, but the work Lastufka puts into creating a believable world and true-to-life characters pays off when the darkness lurking at the story’s edges finally comes crashing to the fore. Lastufka weaves together the novel’s plot strands—the mystery of Adriana’s visions, Mayor Bradley’s political machinations, the fate of Adriana’s ex-boyfriend—with brisk pacing and a lean, economical style that keeps the action moving towards its violent and genuinely shocking, conclusion.
FACE THE NIGHT is an unexpected pleasure, recalling the down-to-earth storytelling craft of Jack Ketchum and the earnest sympathy that Dean Koontz inspires for his characters. A compelling blend of small-town mystery and supernatural horror, the novel succeeds brilliantly on both fronts.
In this debut novel that fuses horror and supernatural mystery, a woman struggles to understand a recurring nightmare that has haunted her since childhood.
Set in the fictional town of Cellar, Ohio, in 1987, the story begins as Adriana Krause—an unemployed, single mother trying to make ends meet—is embroiled in a custody battle over her 3-year-old son, Dylan, with her estranged father, Bradley Krause. Bradley is the longtime mayor of the town. After a court judge decides that in order for Adriana to keep custody of her son, she needs to secure gainful employment in the next 30 days, her life goes from bad to worse. Dylan’s biological father, Eric—a drug addict who has had nothing to do with Adriana and her son for years—overdoses and dies on her couch while babysitting the boy as she attempts to get hired as a sketch artist for the local police department. Because of her uncanny ability to bring subjects to life on the sketch pad, she gets the job—barely—and befriends a rookie cop named Matthew Hinkley. The two are both outsiders of sorts and find common ground questioning the strange and seemingly unethical decisions coming from the mayor and the police chief. As Adriana fights to keep custody of her son, she becomes increasingly beleaguered with a dream that has haunted her for years. In the dream, she is underwater at the bottom of a lake when a rotting arm explodes from the sediment, grabs her, and begins pulling her down. When she sees the corpse’s face, it’s trying to tell her something. As her father becomes embroiled in a contentious mayoral race, Adriana and Matthew begin to piece together the clues that they’ve uncovered—some from his work with cold-case files and others from her evolving nightmare—and the conclusion they both come to is as shocking as it is gruesome.
This outstanding novel is reminiscent of early works by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Lastufka brilliantly uses subtle imagery and symbolism throughout to create a decidedly dark undertone that is simultaneously creepy and nostalgic. In the very first sequence, for example, Adriana tattoos a laughing, rotting skull onto the arm of her former boyfriend as ’80s tunes blare from the radio. The utilization of music from the era adds another layer to the narrative and creates a memorable soundtrack to Adriana’s story that includes Depeche Mode’s “Strangelove,” Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” And, like the aforementioned horror luminaries, the author employs sensory descriptions masterfully, using them to fully immerse readers in the eerie atmospherics: “She listened. The water lapped gently at the shore, hundreds of branches creaked under the weight of the breeze, nearby frogs croaked at the moon, and there was a faint chiming. Adriana didn’t expect to find anything pleasant in this nightmare world, but the distant bell chimed continuously, monotone and somewhat soothing.” But, above all, it’s the surprisingly intricate plotline that powers this narrative. The wide-ranging characters—from Adriana’s neighbor’s deaf teen daughter to the courageous wife of the candidate running against Bradley—are like puzzle pieces, and with each new revelation, the grisly picture becomes clearer.
An impressive, complex horror tale—two (rotting) thumbs up.