The Hungry Ones (The Messy Man Series Book 2) by Chris Sorensen
Publisher: Harmful Monkey Press | Release Date: May 28, 2019 | Pages: 313
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For as much as I dug Chris Sorensen’s debut last year with The Nightmare Room, I wasn’t quite sure about its series potential, how Sorensen would stretch this premise out over multiple books, or what directions it could be spun in. Getting into a series requires a degree of blind trust from the reader — you have to hope that the author knows what they’re doing, that they have some kind of plan in place for future installments, and have faith in them to deliver on your goodwill. You also have to trust they won’t kick off a strong series with interesting characters only to abandon it once they’ve gotten you hooked (à la Dean Koontz’s Christopher Snow series, for instance). The author, meanwhile, is asking you to invest both time and money, not just once, but twice, maybe three times, possibly more if it’s a series with long-term expectations. They have to deliver on the goods over and over and over in order to keep readers invested and to feel both rewarded at the end of the latest installment and excited to keep going with the next book. Honestly, series are a pain in the ass, y’all. There’s a lot of give and take involved, a degree of commitment that’s necessary in developing a new relationship. It can be smooth sailing, or it can be downright messy.
Thankfully, The Hungry Ones is pretty smooth sailing, at least for readers. The characters, however, find themselves in some particularly messy situations. Sorensen takes an interesting route in this follow-up, presenting a sequel to The Nightmare Room that is ostensibly, in some ways, a reboot to the series following the prior novel’s climax.
We’re given a sort-of sideways re-entry into the world of The Messy Man with its focus on new characters and the reintroduction of the Larsen family in a new context. Jessie Voss is the new owner of the Intermission Motor Lodge, née the Crossroads Motel, the site of a murder spree two years prior. Although she’s aware of the Maple City Massacre, she has little understanding or belief in just how profane the grounds have become as a result. Added into the mix are the Larson family, who make the motel their base of operations so Peter can visit his dying mother and, possibly, move his family into the home purchased by his father. Their son Michael, though, carries more than just the baggage of his recent battle with cancer, and soon finds himself in the cross-hairs of supernatural forces seeking to possess him.
Sorensen takes the Go Big Or Go Home route to this sequel. Whereas The Nightmare Room involved a single entity haunting a family home, The Hungry Ones has an entire motel’s worth of the unruly dead to play with. There’s not just one ghost making life miserable for Voss, but a few handfuls of creepy things that go bump in the night. If you dug The Nightmare Room, then you already know Sorensen is adept at writing creeptastic scenes that’ll have you looking over your shoulder. However, If you haven’t read The Nightmare Room yet I highly suggest you do so first. And even if you read book one, you still might want to skim through it again or read the last couple chapters before diving into The Hungry Ones. I’ve read at least a hundred books in between these two Messy Man entries, so I was a bit fuzzy on some of the details surrounding the Larson’s and their current state of affairs. Although Sorensen spares you the details of a long-winded recap via infodump, it wasn’t long before I was able to get back into the thick of things and get a few pings on my recollection radar.
Although there’s good a deal of spooky ghostly encounters, it’s the living characters that have the biggest impact. I really dug Jessie a lot; she’s a cool, tough, determined heroine whose recent hospitalization allows her to form a natural bond and friendship with young Michael Larson. Given the events in The Nightmare Room, it’s only natural that Michael take on a more central focus in the proceedings while his parents move into the background of the narrative. Without spoiling things, though, I will say that one of the more fascinating aspects of this book is makeshift found-family unit that forms around Michael, Jessie, and Peter, with the two adults going to great lengths to protect the boy.
One of the hallmarks of a successful series is whether or not you’re open to the next installment by the time you reach that last page. Are there still avenues left to explore, adventures that you want to be a part of? Or have you seen enough? Are you bored and ready to bail? Me, I’m still open for more, especially since Sorensen ends The Hungry Ones on a note that promises to spin this series sideways yet again. The author has injected a particular element into the proceedings that allows for a certain malleability from book to book, and this novel’s ending indicates that Sorensen will be shifting focus once more come book three. As with the ending of The Nightmare Room, I’m not entirely certain where Sorensen is planning on taking things or what other tricks he has up his sleeve, but I’m more than ready to see what he has in store for us with The Messy Man. Hopefully that book comes out soon, because I’ve got questions and curiosities that need answering, and the sooner the better!