From Cherie Priest, the author of The Family Plot and Maplecroft, comes The Toll, a tense, dark, and scary treat for modern fans of the traditionally strange and macabre.
The Verge—New Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for July
Lit Reactor—Most Anticipated Horror Books of 2019
Take a road trip into a Southern gothic horror novel.
Titus and Melanie Bell are on their honeymoon and have reservations in the Okefenokee Swamp cabins for a canoeing trip. But shortly before they reach their destination, the road narrows into a rickety bridge with old stone pilings, with room for only one car.
Much later, Titus wakes up lying in the middle of the road, no bridge in sight. Melanie is missing. When he calls the police, they tell him there is no such bridge on Route 177 . . .
At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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Horror After Dark Review
THE TOLL is only the second novel that I have read by author Cherie Priest, but it definitely put her on my list of “must-read” authors. This Southern Gothic tale was so rich in atmosphere that it was easy to put myself in the place of the characters, and see the way things were through theireyes.
“He’d seen ghosts before. Everybody in Staywater knew at least a couple, and most everyone was on friendly terms.”
We begin with a newly married couple, Titus and Melanie Bell, as they travel State Road 177, between Fargo, Georgia and the Okefenoke Swamp, on their way to a cottage “honeymoon”. When they come upon a single lane bridge that just feels . . . wrong . . . the sense of confusion and apprehension are strong enough for the readers to feel.
Later, Titus inexplicably finds himself in the middle of the road–his new bride nowhere to be found.
“. . . from east to west, you’ll cross six bridges . . . from west to east . . . once in a while, you might cross seven. But you better hope not.”
When we reach the small town of Staywater, Georgia, we quickly learn that this place and its residents aren’t quite like other areas and people . . . Staywater initially brought to my mind a land “stuck in the past”, by the observations we get of people like the old cousins, Daisy and Claire, and the hands-on way they live–planting their own gardens, tending to their own affairs. There is a lot different in this dying town, but the people there accept it as “normal”–most never having left the town since they arrived.
“. . . We thought it was safe to forget . . . But we’ve been wrong before . . . “
Priest does a phenomenal job in showing us this town, where the dead aren’t always gone, and a large event that occurs every “so many years” is avoided in conversations as completely as possible.
An event that causes some to . . . disappear . . . forever.
“. . . It’s funny, how your brain tries to tell you that you’re looking at something normal, when you’re not. Like it’s trying to protect you from your very own self.”
The only complaint I had with this novel is that after the initial revelations, things slow down too much for my personal taste. Although we are still seeing some of the unique aspects of Staywater through its residents, the larger matter of the “bridge” and what it signifies is only alluded to.
“. . . The worst part is that you’re never going to know. That’s what really does a number on your head . . . “
However, from about two-thirds into the novel on, things begin to escalate dramatically. The cousins are much more forthcoming with their knowledge, and the other characters start taking more action, as opposed to the virtual lethargy that they had spent their lives in thus far.
“. . . the ghost of something that never lived–or never should’ve lived here . . . “
At this point, it feels as though the atmosphere has been suitably established, and now the individual people begin to show more “spirit”. I loved the dynamics between many of these personalities–both the ones on good terms, and the ones wary of each other. Comedic banter has always been a favorite of mine in novels, and this became much more prominent here, as well.
“. . . It’s about to rain, we’re walking into a swamp full of monsters, and we’re looking for answers that nobody’s ever gotten before . . . “
While there is much ambiguity as to the nature of “the thing” causing the periodic vanishings, I felt that it worked well in a story like this one. It helped to maintain that sense of “otherworldliness” and fit in so well with the differences that the entire town of Staywater projected.
“. . . If you see it from the corner of your eye, or if you stare at it too hard . . . the costume starts to waver.”
Overall, this story was a perfect fit in the Gothic Horror subgenre. The town and its residents made me feel as though I’d stepped back into another time and place entirely. Although it was a bit too slow for me during the middle, the action really took off during the last third–at which point I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it.
“. . . She’s no monster under a bridge, but she’s a monster of another sort. Selfish and cold, grown up too pretty in a town full of ugly . . . “
The ending left me completely satisfied, giving my mind free reign to wander on with endless possibilities and emotions.
“The things I take are mine to keep.”
About The Author
About Cherie Priest
You can learn everything you want to know about Cherie Priest via her website, http://www.cheriepriest.com – thanks so much!