The story wastes no time getting to the dark stuff, opening with the creation of a monstrous abomination, and following through to its abduction of a young girl. Cutter establishes so much atmosphere and so much dread in those first few pages, it's genuinely chilling.
From there, we go on to meet the tale's three protagonists, each of them suffering under fifteen years of having their fondest wish granted. They're all unlikable scoundrels, bounty hunters and assassins who we could easily dismiss as having earned their fate . . . yet, as the story draws on, our sympathy for them grows alongside a grudging sort of admiration.
As for the Little Heaven of the title, it's a secluded religious cult, rotting away beneath the cursed shadow of Black Rock. Its leader, Reverend Amos Flesher is instantly one of the most despicable villains of horror fiction, a righteous, self-important, dangerously deluded man. Even without having been warned about him beforehand, the sight of his camp and the condition of its faithful instantly put us on our guard, and his reaction to the return of a cursed abomination of a missing child is enough to turn even the strongest stomachs. Black Rock is a monument to old, earthbound evil, and its shadow looms large over the hearts and minds of the faithful.
Like those doorstopper epics of the 80s and 90s - IT, Swan Song, and Carrion Comfort immediately come to mind - this is a horror that's equal parts human and monstrous. Unlike those books, however, there's a complexity to Little Heaven that I appreciated almost as much as its rejection to the genre tropes. There is no hand of God here to save the day, no precocious child to show us the error of our ways, and no noble sacrifice to defeat evil at its own game. I honestly wasn't sure where the story was headed in either thread, 1965 or 1980, and I loved the fact that there was no attempt to put a familiar mythological face on the evil. This is a big story, told on an intimate scale, and despite its length there's not a single scene I would see cut.
Achieving the perfect trifecta, the writing here is just as strong as the story and its characters. Little Heaven is a smart story, full of big words and almost poetic descriptions, with a narrative style that pulls the reader down, submerses us in the story, and drags us along its steady treacherous current. It takes everything Cutter did best in his first forays into horror, brings it all together, and delivers something truly epic.
Hardcover, 496 pages
Expected publication: January 10th 2017 by Gallery Books
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.