Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan is…not great, if I’m being completely honest. I had high expectations for it; the plot sounded really interesting. Here’s an excerpt from the back cover: “The streets of his town are suddenly empty and silent. A strange fog has drifted in from the sea and hangs over everything. And something is moving in that fog. Something evil. Something hungry. Closing in on Tom.”
Sounds pretty cool right? Unfortunately it’s an interesting idea marred by its execution.
The first problem is the writing. While, based on subject matter and marketing, the book is clearly aimed at teens, the actual writing feels more like it’s aimed at younger children. A lot of the sentences are short, often fragmented. For example, “Tom sat up in bed, tossing the comforter aside. He shook his head to clear it. Weird call. Weird noise. Woke him up out of that great dream too. What was it? Oh yeah, he remembered: heaven.”
There’s also a lot of telling, rather than showing, which can doom a book. We’re told that Tom’s “blue eyes shone out intense, smart, steely and unwavering. His features were narrow and sharp, serious and purposeful…anyone else who looked at him recognized a young man who knew how to go after what he wanted, a young man who could not easily be turned away.” But we’re not shown it. If anything, throughout the book Tom comes across the opposite of all of the above; he’s self-conscious, awkward, and more than a little dense.
Klaven also often feels the need to define things he’s not sure his readers will get, like the definition of “malevolence,” or, more distractingly, during a hospital scene, what scrubs are. This would not be so out of place in a book for younger readers, but it’s kind of insulting to teens to treat them like they need so much explanation.
Then there’s the somewhat heavy handed Christianity aspect. I’m sure there are readers who may not be bothered by that, may even appreciate it, but to me, it came across as distracting and cliche. I was able to overlook it at first, but as it became more overt, it became harder to see past. Especially when Tom talks to Lisa, who discusses with Tom the nature of heaven and gives him advice based on Biblical quotes. She also leaves him with her cross necklace for protection, reminding him that God is with him. Again, I recognize that this will not bother some readers, but I was a little thrown off by my horror novel veering into “Inspirational Fiction” territory. That’s partially my fault though; if I had looked into the author a little more I would have seen that he is also the author of some more overtly Christian works.
Another problem I had is the depiction of women. Calling the female characters weak is an understatement. Lisa is okay; she starts out marginally interesting, although she kind of devolves into a stereotypical “good Christian girl” as the book goes on. Meanwhile, Marie is mostly described by her looks. Tom has supposedly been crushing on her for years, but the book doesn’t really explain why except that she is really pretty. That she eventually turns out to be villainous is telegraphed from the beginning. Between Lisa and Marie, you have the pure good girl and the duplicitous temptress. I am more than a little tired of women being reduced to one or the other in fiction, especially fiction written by men.
Finally, the book is pretty predictable. I don’t want to give anything away, but seasoned readers will probably guess what direction this book is going pretty quickly. That direction also doesn’t happen to be particularly scary, which is a letdown for a book with such a creepy premise.
I read Nightmare City pretty quickly, and I wasn’t ever really bored by it (although certain parts got repetitive), so I’m not going to say you shouldn’t read it. Just be aware of what you’re getting into before opening the cover and maybe you won’t feel as let down as I was. There is probably an audience for this book. It just wasn’t me.