People are dying at Strong Lake, and the worst is yet to come.
An idyllic weekend camping trip is cut short when Reese Wallace’s friends are brutally murdered. As the group’s only survivor, Reese is the prime suspect, and his story doesn’t make much sense. A disembodied voice warning him to leave the campground the night before? A strange, blackened tree that gave him an electric shock when he cut it down for firewood?
Detective Greyeyes isn’t having any of it―until she hears the voice herself and finds an arrowhead at the crime scene―an arrowhead she can’t get rid of. Troubling visions of a doomed Native American tribe who once called the campground home, and rumors of cursed land and a mythical beast plague the strangest murder case she’s ever been a part of.
FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launched in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.
Horror After Dark Review
THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE by J.H. Moncrieff is an indisputable horror novel, yet that alone is an understatement. I noticed a blending of several other genres, including historical fiction, police procedural, folklore, and the supernatural.
We begin with two couples on their way to a weekend camping trip. In the case of one, Reese is planning on breaking things off with his girlfriend in the near future. The banter was exactly what you would expect to hear from any small group on this type of trip, making for realistic characters right from the start. There’s even some sarcasm and “internal” insults that add to this effect.
“. . . Once upon a time, I’d thought she was pretty. Then I’d gotten to know her.”
Warning bells started going off in my mind as soon as they reached the empty campground. The descriptions and observations made me feel as though I was physically there–and wishing very much that I could be anywhere else!
“. . . Something in these woods was malevolent, and it didn’t want them here . . .”
From then on, the action and horror ramp up, and never really stop once it begins. Moncrieff does a fantastic job of giving the readers different perspectives throughout the novel. We see things through the mind of Clear Springs Police Detective, Maria Greyeyes–a Native American who believes in the tangible world around her, and not old superstitions.
“. . . There was enough tangible evil in her world without chasing boogeymen.”
Then there’s the nearby Reservation, whose residents don’t trust any outsiders–including Maria–and the police force in general.
“You’re not welcome here.”
The campground in question is a place the Native Americans shun, and one the government tries to push as belonging to the Reservation–neither side wanting ownership of it.
“. . . This place was wrong. It was damaged, somehow . . . “
We are taken between the present situation unfolding, and flashbacks to the past of the Indian Reservation. This is a tactic that, admittedly, doesn’t always work for me, personally. However, in this instance, the way that it unfolded seemed to merge into the novel seamlessly. While things continued to accelerate in the present, we are given pieces of a horrible tragedy that laid the foundation for the future.
“When does a coincidence become more than a coincidence . . . “
Throughout the story, there is plenty of action, carnage, and gore–along with the ordinary evil humans are capable of. Yet what really kept me glued to this novel were the characters. Each individual featured had a complete history, backstory, and “personal outlook”. The beauty of this is that the author doesn’t need to single out and “tell” us each and every detail. We are shown some outright, others through the thoughts of different characters, and even more that we are able to simply deduce for ourselves. The fact that I felt I intimately knew the people in this book helped develop a bond of a sort, one that kept me glued to the pages, reluctant to put it down for any length of time.
When a reader “connects” with characters, the book becomes that much stronger, and compelling to them. The smallest details of a personality can make a huge impact in how caught up in the book you become, and in how much you are able to suspend disbelief in the face of illogical happenings.
“I think that place is evil. The kind of evil that doesn’t stay put, the kind that will follow you home . . . “
At one point, I became more invested in the characters from the past than the ones in the present.
“It is very difficult to forgive someone who has never apologized, who doesn’t realize forgiveness is required . . . “
When I look back at this story as a whole, my overall impression is one of complete perfection in all of the areas I consider essential for a book to be able to mentally “take me away from reality” while I’m reading it. The characters felt REAL. Those that were meant to illicit sympathy did, and those who were meant to be disliked, were. The atmosphere–both in the present scene and past flashbacks–fully conveyed the terror it was supposed to. Additionally, the historical fiction aspect gave me an entirely new level to digest, and quite a bit to think about afterwards. This was a fictional story with so much depth to it, that you could easily feel parts of it were real. I didn’t even try to guess where things were headed, I just went along with the words the entire way.
“The tree. They never should have touched that tree.”
About The Author
About J.H. Moncrieff
J.H. Moncrieff’s City of Ghosts won the 2018 Kindle Book Review Award for best Horror/Suspense.
Reviewers have described her work as early Gillian Flynn with a little Ray Bradbury and Stephen King thrown in for good measure.
She won Harlequin’s search for “the next Gillian Flynn” in 2016. Her first published novella, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, was featured in Samhain’s Childhood Fears collection and stayed on its horror bestsellers list for over a year.
When not writing, she loves exploring the world’s most haunted places, advocating for animal rights, and summoning her inner ninja in muay thai class.
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