Monday, May 25, 2009

Bonechiller by Graham McNamee

It's the middle of the night and freezing, because this is Canada in December, and Danny is on his way home when he senses something following him. Something big and fast and soundless as it runs, something unlike anything Danny has ever seen before, that catches him as he nears home.

At first, the only proof Danny has that something out of the ordinary happened are a small blue mark on his hand where he was bitten and the giant footprints he finds in the snow the next morning. The prints are at least twice the size of Danny's feet, complete with claw marks, but Danny's brainy pal Howie is sure they're fake. Then the creature attacks Howie.

As Howie begins to piece together the clues that tell of a long pattern of missing teens, all bitten by a strange creature, then lured into the cold winter night, never to be seen again, he and Danny start to feel the effects of the bite. One of their classmates, Ray, fell ill with some sort of infection and ran away from the hospital where doctors were trying to treat him. Danny and Howie are sure Ray was the creature's first victim this winter. Will they be able to avoid Ray's fate?

Bonechiller by Graham McNamee reads almost like an episode of Supernatural, circa Season 1, but without Sam and Dean. (And not written by a guy named Chuck.) This isn't blood-and-guts horror, but a gradually-building supernatural thriller. McNamee deftly conveys his characters' dread and their determination to escape the creature, while also leaving the reader wondering how Danny and Howie can manage such a thing.

Danny's first-person narration is merely serviceable and I do wish the pacing had been better, because after the initial attack on Danny, not much happened for about the next 60 pages. But once the story got going, I forgot about about these complaints. Instead, I would swear that the air around me got cooler and the breeze stronger as I read deeper into the book. While the creature is physically terrifying, McNamee uses a less-is-more approach when it comes to its physical appearance. True, he does describe the way it looks and how it frightens Danny, but the main focus is on the creature's psychological effect on Danny and Howie: the way it relentlessly chases them and invades their dreams, and their knowledge, based on what they have learned of its previous victims, that they have less than two weeks to find a way to survive.

[cross-posted at The YA YA YAs]

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