First of all, I would like to give credit to Tim Miller for being versatile in his level of grossness and good taste or lack of and not always writing novels that are extreme body horror. While I felt uncomfortable reading his newer novel Dead to Writes (April Almighty) I didn’t have the same squeamish feeling reading Family Night, an earlier novel. Second of all, to get to the meat of my review, I honestly didn’t love Family Night even though it had the kind of plot that would usually make me fall in love with a horror novel.
I can’t help but continually compare Family Night to Dead to Writes and unfortunately Family Night is the weaker of Tim Miller’s cannibal serial killer novels. You’ll have to excuse the fact that I make these comparisons in the following review, especially since I try to avoid doing this because I hate it when other reviewers do it, but here I think it’s the only way to write a complete review. Family Night and Dead to Writes are so eerily similar in that both novels feature families of cannibal serial killers that I wondered if Family Night was a precursor of Dead to Writes and Miller is going to introduce us to an entire extended family of torture-friendly serial killer cannibals. That’s not exactly correct, but I feel safe in saying that Miller’s shtick is writing about cannibal serial killers. In Family Night there is a man, Eddie Mason, who is a Texas cannibal serial killer. Apparently he’s one of the worst, having made kills of over fifty people. The police are boggled by how he does it because he’s only one man, right? Yes, Eddie is only one man. This isn’t one of those “evil twin” novels. He’s able to produce such a high body count because his two children Brandi and Jeffrey are apprentices in the art of killing. Not to get too opinionated in a plot summary, but I would’ve loved to read more about the offspring, such as how exactly they were trained. Miller tells us that Eddie started the killing trade like any other serial killer, first experimenting with animals and then moving to humans. Once he got successful in making his kills, he named himself The Mask. We don’t know how Brandi and Jeffrey were first talked into making kills and how it became so important to them The only substantial thing we know about the children is that from their training they’ve come to believe that law enforcement officers are pests that need exterminated.
The thing that attracted me to Family Night was the novel’s official synopsis. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s inaccurate, but it gives the wrong impression of who’s important in the novel. We don’t have an official hero character that survives to the end. At first I thought it would be Julie Castillo, the not-a-homicide detective investigating the disappearance of a woman working at a strip club that then tangles with Eddie Mason and his crazy offspring. She would’ve been the most logical choice. When the longest-lasting survivor was Sarah Howard, Julie’s girlfriend who worked at a bar and grill, I had mixed thoughts on that. The irony of a grill employee killing a cannibal serial killer is amusing to me, but not so much that I can’t find it a questionable plot twist. Now, I’m not trying to say that Sarah can’t be strong in her own right, but I would think that as a detective Julie would have more strength and skill at dealing with serial killers than Sarah would. The “hero” of the novel, then, is Officer Ray Smith, who is only significant as the one that discovers the crime scene. In the end, Ray Smith kills himself because the events of “The Mask”/”The Alamo Cannibal” (a later nickname for Eddie Mason). In short, this is a novel where rocks fall and everyone dies in a figurative sense. I’m not sure I like this very much. I’m all for bleak endings provided that the novel has led up to such an ending, but in Family Night it seems more like “So what was the point of this novel?” I didn’t exactly love Dead to Writes, Tim Miller’s latest cannibal serial killer(s) novel, but the one thing it did so much better than Family Night is end with surviving characters and a point to finish the novel and then keep reading the series.
I’m wondering how I would recommend or not recommend Family Nights based on its own merits. Since I’m personally interested in reading fiction about children/teen serial killers, I would say that it might appeal to myself and others for having enough of that quality throughout the novel to make it interesting. It’s just that like I said earlier, I would’ve wanted more information about the offspring’s killer training to make it meet that criteria. Keep this warning in mind if you, like me, want the young serial-killers-in-training to be front and center. Readers that like sad or bleak endings are probably a better audience, to be honest.