Do you like to be scared? Maybe you’ve worked your way through the back-catalogs of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and now you want to read from a different letter of the alphabet for a while. Or maybe you’re feeling jaded and numb, because all those other horror lists have the same damn books by the same damn authors on them and you’d really appreciate a little variety. Since we’ve entered the witching month of October, why not let us take you on a guided tour of hell? Keep your hands and feet inside the article at all times, and if you feel faint, just tell yourself: “It’s only a book…it’s only a book…” This week’s entry is “The Resurrectionist” by Wrath James White.
Have you ever read something with a premise so throat-punchingly terrifying that months or even years later you get the creeps thinking about it? Wrath James White’s “The Resurrectionist” is that book. If you’re a horror lightweight, this is not the story to start with. White, befitting his background as a world-class Kickboxer and MMA trainer, pulls zero punches in this 300-page package of high-octane nightmare fuel.
Ever since Dale McCarthy took up residence in a nearby house, Sarah Lincoln has suffered horrible nightmares: she awakens to her husband Josh’s throat being slit by a shadowy intruder, then is subjected to both physical and sexual assault before being violently murdered. The memories feel real to her, but murder victims also don’t wake up in the morning like nothing ever happened. What could be causing these vivid dreams?
Josh assures her it’s nothing but her imagination working overtime. If someone was breaking into the house, there would be evidence. He’d remember a fight. Whoever tried it would be broken in half. It’s just the stress from moving into a new home. Dale’s creepy, and he might have an unhealthy obsession with Sarah, but the scrawny weirdo’s too much of a chicken to act on those impulses. If he ever tried, then Josh, with his all-American physique, would tear off his arm and beat him to death with it.
But if that’s the case, why do things in the house seem different? Why does Sarah wake up in the morning on a bed with different sheets and pillowcases than she remembered falling asleep on? Why does the carpet feel wet under her bare feet, as though it was recently cleaned? Who put all the towels in the dryer? Did Josh suddenly take up doing housework without her knowing? Is she suffering from amnesia? Instinct tells her someone gets into their house at night, but nothing is missing, no one is hurt, and the police don’t investigate hunches.
Dale was born with a gift. By simply laying his hands on something dead, he can reassemble it and bring it back to life. What’s more if he uses this power on a human, the one brought back returns with no memories of his or her demise. It’s like it never happened. Think of all the good one could accomplish with such an ability. Think of the awesome responsibility that comes with such a gift. Think about what would happen if someone realized they could use it to literally get away with the most vile, depraved, murderous crimes imaginable. After all, it’s only murder if there’s a body. Imagine the futility of gathering evidence against someone who can kill at will and never leave a corpse. Imagine learning the truth and being unable to act because no one would believe you.
Now imagine Dale just moved in next door to you.
“The Resurrectionist” is pure hardcore, splatterpunk, zero-fucks-given, honest-to-gawd horror. While White’s gift for characterization isn’t as strong as other writers (Sarah and Josh are inconsistent and occasionally unlikable as protagonists), the sheer psychological impact of the mind games Dale plays with his new favorite victims are enough to render all but the most jaded connoisseur of terror slack-jawed with awe. Dale would give even Hannibal Lecter pause–after all, even at his worst the good doctor could only kill you once. Dale on the other hand could murder you a different way, every day, for an entire year, and even if you suspected it, even if you caught it on tape, even if you had iron-clad evidence in your hands to show the police, how would you convince anyone of the truth? Stomach-churning, insomnia-generating villains are hard to come by in this modern age, but if there’s one who you would fight harder to stay awake against than Freddy Krueger, Wrath James White dreamed him up in 2009.
One final note: this book was turned into the film “Come Back to Me” in 2014. As with most book-to-screen adaptations, stick to the source material. Nothing they could show on film can touch what happens in the book.
Most disturbing scene: Picking a most disturbing scene from “The Resurrectionist” is like trying to decide which tooth you’d prefer drilled without anesthetic: so many choices, and none of them appealing. I’m going with the first one that popped into my head. Dale initially experiments with his gift by bringing a dead kitten back to life, which doesn’t sound disturbing at all…until he starts killing it in increasingly sadistic ways to test the limits of his gift. Spoiler alert: no matter what he does, he cannot find a limit. Given the body of the rest of White’s work, neither can he.