The Nightmare Girl by Jonathan Janz

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Publisher: Flame Tree Press | Release Date: Feb. 7, 2019 | Pages: 256

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading The Nightmare Girl, a few aphorism immediately sprung to mind. One being that no good deed goes unpunished, and the second being that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And on this last one in particular…brother, it’s getting awfully hot in here.

Joe’s got a good heart, and a good family to match in his wife, Michelle, and daughter Lily. So, when he stops to fill up the car with gas and overhears a heated confrontation brewing between a mother and her infant, the noise of the child screaming helplessly as he gets smacked around, Joe intervenes. He tries to diffuse the situation, and does to a certain extent, but opens up a whole new world of pain for both their families.

Little Stevie is taken away from his mother and placed into foster care. The mother kills herself. Grandma blames Joe and begins stalking him, turning up in his life in random and inconvenient moments. Grandma has allies, too, in a cult that soon seeks to put the hurt on Joe in various way, straining his marriage and leading him into danger.

All this, though, is just the tip of the iceberg. Jonathan Janz slowly unravels the mystery of Stevie’s family and the peril Joe has unwittingly found himself neck deep in. His good intentions, his plan to better both his life and Little Stevie’s, only fan the flames higher and higher.

Family dynamics and interpersonal relationships are at the core of The Nightmare Girl, and Janz knows how to build interesting characters that have a good bit of meat on their bones. Joe’s a common man, and all the more relatable for it. Reading Janz’s depictions of Joe with his daughter was something I could immediately latch onto, and Lilly, with her obsession of trains, was practically a reflection of my own toddler during his Thomas the Tank Engine phase. Joe and Sheriff Copeland have an earnest relationship, one that provides a lot of humor to some otherwise grim proceedings, and as they work together to get to the bottom of the occult happenings in Joe’s life it’s impossible not to root for them.

For the most part, The Nightmare Girl is a slow burn. Unlike the action-heavy Savage Species, Janz is more interested here in the human characters, their relationships and motivations, and the occasional strange occurrences, setting up plenty of questions and mysteries as he methodically builds tension and paranoia along the way. The final quarter of the book, though, is a full-fledged assault and that slow burn quickly shifts gears to a roiling boil as everything comes to a viscerally violent, action-packed head, Janz-style.

The Nightmare Girl was originally published a few years back by the now-defunct Samhain, but has been resurrected by Flame Tree Press. If you missed this book the first time around, it’s well worth checking out now that it’s back in print.