Books: Shock Waves by Matt Kurtz

A while back, I gave a glowing review to the excellent 2020 novella The Rotting Within by Matt Kurtz (seriously, read it), and much to my pleasant surprise, the author himself recently contacted me and offered me a copy of his latest work, a “creature feature” novella titled Shock Waves, which was just published by Umbra Press. Well, since I said in my Rotting Within review that I wanted to read more of this guy’s stuff, I was all too happy to accept. And I noticed that my review of his previous book is even quoted at the beginning of this new one, which actually made me blush a little bit, like I was an actual famous person!

Clocking in at a brisk 166 pages, Shock Waves absolutely does not fuck around, and dives right into the horror within the first few minutes, not letting up until the very end. Just as in his earlier work, this novella is tight and relentless, with characters introduced with enough economical detail to get you emotionally invested in them so you’ll be devastated when they (usually) get horribly killed. Kurtz is a fearless writer, not shying away from bumping off cute babies or other beloved characters, and because of that, you can never be entirely sure that even the major protagonists are safe.

The story, set in 1988, is told from the first-person perspective of a seventeen-year-old kid named Danny, who works summers at a Texas establishment called The Lone Star Land Amusement Park. In his endnotes, Kurtz mentions that this tale is somewhat autobiographical, as he worked as a ride foreman at an amusement park when he was a teenager, and this familiarity with the procedures of the job really gives the story an immersive quality and a good dose of realism.

We’re introduced to Danny and a couple of his other co-workers, including Kyra, a go-getting gymnast who factors significantly into the story later on. Danny’s main preoccupation this particular summer, though, is his relationship with his girlfriend of two years, Stacy, who also works at the park. Prior to the events of the novella, he and Stacy had something of an argument over their break, and now that he’s back manning his station, he’s feeling pretty bad about it, and counting the hours until his shift ends so he can go apologize to her. We don’t find out until later what exactly the fight was about, but suffice it to say that it makes the stakes of the story significantly higher.

Danny is acting as ride foreman on a roller coaster called Shock Waves, along with the assistant foreman, Greg. The boys are hoping that the park will close earlier than usual, because a massive storm is rolling in, complete with crackling lightning. But for now, park guests are climbing onto the coaster, getting ready for a ride, and Danny has to ensure their safety.

Because a few guests had been complaining about one sharp turn on Shock Waves being way bumpier than usual, Danny decides to hop on the coaster himself to check it out before deigning to call the surly park mechanic, Billy. But no sooner has the coaster crested the first hill than all hell begins to break loose.

It so happens that right next to the amusement park is a large construction site. Danny has no idea what they’re building over there, but crews are working day and night. While Danny and a handful of other people are on the coaster, an enormous explosion rocks the site next door, opening up a ten-foot-wide rift in the earth and knocking out all the power to the park.

Plunged into darkness and trapped far above the ground, Danny tries to reassure the guests that someone will be along soon to help them off the ride. And for a few minutes, it seems like this is exactly what will happen; there are protocols in place to deal with this sort of event, after all.

But then, everyone begins to notice that there are…things…coming out of that crack in the earth. Some of them with wings, some with segmented bodies and compound eyes, some with tentacles, but all of them much larger than they should be, and all with a voracious appetite for flesh.

So the rest of the story is essentially a nail-biting journey through this amusement park as Danny and a ragtag gang of survivors try to get down from the roller coaster, get to the next ride over to rescue Danny’s girlfriend Stacy, and then get the fuck out of the park to the surrounding neighborhoods to reunite with the grandmother and son of two of the park guests, Juan and Lidia. All along the way, monsters of all descriptions are swooping in from land, air, and sea to tear them limb from limb. And some of the deaths here are really gnarly, so gorehounds should be more than satisfied with the level of carnage. As I mentioned in my previous review of The Rotting Within, this is the kind of story that constitutes real horror, as it describes completely nice, blameless people getting torn to pieces for no reason other than a hungry monster wanted to eat them.

Much like the roller coaster that gives the book its name, this is a thrilling, fast-paced ride with a bunch of ups and downs, and a real emotional heart at its core in the form of the likeable Danny, an affable and humbly heroic everyman who you can’t help but root for in his quest to get to his true love before the monsters do. I think Matt Kurtz is quickly becoming one of my favorite horror writers working today; his stuff is just fun, gory, and engaging, and even though he’s not reinventing the wheel, he’s taking everything that makes geeks like me love horror and going balls to the wall with it, ensuring that you’ll have a nastily good time. He also has a great knack for brief, targeted characterization that gets you on board with the characters immediately, all the better to crush your spirit when something terrible (again, usually) happens to them. Good shit, man, and definitely recommended.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.


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