I have no idea how to describe this book. I think the best way to put my feelings about it into a more clear perspective for you is that it is absolutely not one of those books I recommend anyone reading when they already feel physically sick and please, for all that is good and holy, don’t read it in a crowded public space. This is extreme horror at its most effective (a point that I cheer) but I was hesitant on even reviewing it because I felt wrong sitting in Panera reading it on my Kindle app. This is the book that would solidify how horror novel/horror genre in general haters feel about all the offerings. It’s an excellent read for anyone who likes body horror/torture scenes and cracked barely human families. In addition, I cheered for April Kennedy as a strong female character when she used her sexuality and manipulation skills to buy herself time from an impending death by the family of torture-happy cannibals. On the other hand, some of these scenes were just…blah. I keep going back and forth between whether I would heartily recommend it for in-private reading or say “Oh my god, never again! Don’t subject yourself to this!”
Dead to Writes begins simply enough with a man named Marty McDougal completing an upload of his novel Tunnel of Doom to the e-book selling website Crashbooks. He has delusions of the book immediately becoming a best-seller and bringing in so much money for the family that they could move up in the world. Problem: Marty McDougal sucks as a writer. College student April Kennedy, a horror buff on the Crashbooks mailing list, thought Tunnel of Doom looked interesting enough based on the title and purchased it, but of course it ended up being a book fail. Herbert, a horror novel reviewer who took his job seriously using the principle that even the worst written book deserved a thorough review of the problems with it, submitted a review dealing primarily with the bad grammar of the book. About thirty minutes later when Herbert checked his review for comments, he received one that read “You’re dead. M. C. McDougal.” Herbert wrote it off as the author being disgruntled that not everyone loved his “genius” work. Meanwhile, Marty McDougal was seething in his rage at some of the personal insults used in other reviews of his novel and plotting…well, let’s just say this is the meat (no pun intended) of Dead to Writes.
I have two competing thoughts about this book (Dead to Writes, not the fictional Tunnel of Doom) and I don’t know how to reconcile them.
On one hand, Dead to Writes is delicious in a sick and twisted way. There are scenes of torture that blow my mind because they’re so graphic and so convincing. I like it when a writer gives me the sense that they know exactly what they’re writing about. I know, this is part of the “sick and twisted” aspects of the book, but go with me here. Tim Miller is so convincing in his gory descriptions that no matter how much I want to slam the cover shut on my Lenovo tablet and forget I ever read this, I need to keep reading. I’m hooked. Few horror novels have done this for me in recent months, so props to Miller. Also, I love that there’s no distinction between “good” and “evil” in Dead to Writes. Under formulaic horror novel conventions, the McDougal family would be your evil villains and April Kennedy would be your hero. Technically April Kennedy is still the hero because this is the first book in a series about her hunting down people like the McDougals. However, April isn’t sugar and spice the way you’d expect most heroes to be. She uses the fact that the McDougal men and their mother (!) like to sexually abuse their victims before killing them to her advantage. By appealing to the family’s twisted sense of appropriate behavior, she is able to knock them off one by one. There were moments when I felt uncomfortable by April, but overall I applaud her for being strong-willed in spite of being shaken by her own abuse at the hands of the McDougals. April Kennedy is a strong female character if I ever saw one, so cheers to Tim Miller for that.
On the other hand, I am thoroughly disgusted by Dead to Writes and I feel extremely dirty for reading it. The scenes of rape were hard to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t included for the sole purpose of shock value. The McDougal family needed that kind of development because otherwise they’d be a generic cannibalistic family. I just didn’t want to read about a certain bodily fluid on every page and eventually it seemed overkill. We knew after the rape of the first victim in the beginning of the novel (before any of the bad reviews of Tunnel of Doom came in and Marty vowed revenge on his critics) that the McDougals were cruel. Having at least two drawn-out scenes as punishment for the negative reviews that weren’t even written by April or Herbert following that was I think the reason I felt so uncomfortable with this book. I wouldn’t normally cry “Trigger warning!” over a book in the horror genre because you should know what you could encounter by getting into the genre, but I want you all to know that if you’re uncomfortable with rape, stay far away from this book.
In conclusion, there is no conclusion I can reach about Dead to Writes. I love it for certain reasons but then I don’t feel comfortable about having read it for other reasons yet I want to continue reading future books in the series but then I’m not sure I can stomach another book as explicit as Dead of Writes but…but…but…Author Tim Miller contributes so much to the self-published extreme horror subgenre. I love having a new voice to read. I rented a second novel by Tim Miller on my Kindle Unlimited app and I’m excited to dive into it because he seems like a solid author. The same details that made me cringe and made me feel uncomfortable are what makes him a stand-out. In the case that I don’t have a clear recommendation, I’ll leave this review here and allow you all to use your own judgment.