by Marc E. Fitch
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Pub Date 15 Aug 2023 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2023
Dead Ends is a powerful, character-driven novel of escalating tension and violence driven by isolation, politics and technology and set against the backdrop of a country in the throws of upheaval.
No one is safe. The residents of a small, forgotten neighborhood are being watched, stalked and harassed by someone or something, and it seems they are powerless to stop it, sending them down an all-too-real path of self-destruction and insanity. As the fear, desperation and death toll mounts, these seemingly average, normal people are twisted into doing the unthinkable.
A Note From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR MARC E. FITCH
"The deeply unnerving imagery [in Boy in the Box] will keep horror lovers hooked. Fitch spins isolation and paranoia into a successfully frightening yarn." -- Publishers Weekly
“I doubt I will read many better horror novels in 2020. Box in the Box was a complete triumph and deserves to be very widely read, even beyond the horror genre.” -- Tony Jones, HorrorDNA
"[Boy in the Box] is a fast paced read, cleverly thought out from start to finish, and a massive accomplishment from Fitch. Highly recommend!" -- HorrorBound
"[A] lyrical and brooding detective novel, Paradise Burns [is] an inspired but little known hardboiled thriller with horror influences I was lucky enough to stumble upon." -- Dead End Follies
Average rating from 21 members
Upon realising there was a new Marc E Fitch novel on the horizon I could not hide my excitement as Boy in the Box (2020) was easily one of the very best horror novels of the last decade. It is a tragedy this truly terrifying book does not pick up more press or reader buzz and is the ultimate story of a camping trip gone wrong in the Adirondack Mountains. It oozes menace, threat and has a brilliantly shrouded and bleak supernatural twist which rips your throat out with its memorable ending. If you have never heard of Boy in the Box, do yourself a favour and read that along with Dead Ends. Both are published by Flame Tree Press on their impressive Fiction Without Frontiers range.
I went into Dead Ends knowing zero about it, the simple fact that Marc E Fitch had a new novel was more than enough to hook me in and shunt it straight to the top of my TBR pile. Dead Ends was a highly original and decidedly odd dark drama which encompassed small town horror, paranoia, families in crisis, politics, gossip, social problems and a house which may or not be haunted. There is a lot of ambiguity in this perfectly pitched novel and it would undoubtedly have been much easier to write a story about an ‘evil’ house which infects or pollutes the area around it, that the much subtler drama Fitch delivers.
Think back to Traffic (2001), the Oscar winning film by Steven Soderbergh which takes a series of stories connected to the war on drugs and they loosely string them together. Dead Ends does exactly this but the stories are much more closely connected, there are four key stories all of which are living normal middle class suburban lives in a small community on the outskirts of a city. When the story opens a sixteen-year-old teenager is hiding out and smoking dope in an abandoned dilapidated house close to where he lives. In subsequent chapters we find out much more about Lucas Lovett and his many problems (standard teenage delinquent stuff) from the many other characters. One of the great strengths of Dead Ends is that the clever rotating perspective allows us to see each of characters from multiple (and often unkind) perspectives.
The main thrust of the story is built around the ripple effect a huge fire which destroys the Widner house causes in the local neighbourhood, particularly Ridgewood Drive where all the main characters live. Just to be clear, Dead Ends is a very bleak and downbeat book as none of the characters are particularly happy or contented with their lives and are ultra-quick to point the finger of blame somebody else for their troubles. At various points the narrative explores the fear of who “they” or “them” are, some sort of metaphysical boogieman which is going to rape their woman and steal their children. The problem is nobody can define who “they” are and the answer is to buy more guns or demonise the teenager Lucas Lovett.
Lovett is strangely absent from most of Dead Ends but dominates proceedings after he becomes the prime suspect in burning the house and then disappears when the locals declare him the poster-boy for delinquent youth and the faults of the nation. Even though the novel might be too slow for some, I found the escalation of events to be incredibly realistic and the shocking turn at around 50% particularly caught me on the hop. Even beyond the four main narratives there were other characters who contributed much to proceedings, including the young journalist and the policeman who is the 911 responder to the escalating incidents.
All four narratives were equally convincing and I really felt for John Ballard who was dealing with both marital and a drink problem. His wife Jessica was at the end of her tether and John was at war with the world and becomes obsessed with the fire, Lovett’s obvious guilt and the fact that the police do nothing eats him up. Vernon Trimble looks after his elderly mother, who has Alzheimer’s, he is unable to cope but knows if his mother ends up in a care facility then he might lose his home. He is also a true crime buff and he and John feed each other’s obsession.
Elizabeth Tutt is an elected local politician and is called a “Hillary Wannabe” and is treated like an outsider as she has only lived there for a couple of years. Single, she hopes to get re-elected but struggles to connect with those she is supposed to represent. However, shortly after the fire she is plagued by her door being repeatedly phantom knocked very late at night, which brings her into the folds of the newly formed Neighbourhood Watch led by John and Vernon. Amber Locke has the final plotline, a bored housewife with a husband, two sons and two huge untrained dogs she hates. Amber feels trapped in her life and is scared her fifteen-year-old son is heading down the same dangerous path as Lucas Lovett, with whom he was friends.
I do not want to say much about any potential supernatural events and the ripple effect the house has on the story, your interpretation of this part of the horrifying events which unfold might be different from mine. The end of the novel was truly haunting; however, I had a feeling in my guts that might be the case with very normal people doing horrible things and the novel had a lot to say about modern day America, gun crime and why many feel they are forgotten by the system or have a voice which is ignored. Or maybe I’m reading too much into Dead Ends? Who knows, either way it was an outstanding follow-up (and completely different) from Boy in the Box.