The 13th opens with one of the most chilling prologues and finishes with one of the most shocking epilogues of any horror novel I’ve ever read. Originally released in 2009, The 13th is dripping with old-school horror as Illinois author John Everson seamlessly stitches dread and suspense into well-worn genre tropes, giving the tried and true a sense of the fresh and new.
The 13th is the third novel written by Everson and remains my favorite of his outstanding bibliography, which includes Covenant, the Bram Stoker Award winner for First Novel in 2004; and NightWhere, a Bram Stoker Award nominee for Best Novel in 2012.
What makes The 13th such an excellent read for old-school fans is that Everson features not one, not two, but three terrifying horror ingredients. A diabolical doctor. Check. Demonic rituals. Check. An asylum for troubled pregnant women. Check.
No matter how you stir up those ingredients, the result will be a bloody mess when it comes out of the oven. And Everson is a master chef when demons are on the menu. The story emits the same vibes as the movies Hostel and Saw, but Everson ratchets it up a level by adding his demonic twist to the mix.
‘Raw iron stench of blood’
With its horrifying imagery, the prologue effectively sets the stage for the nightmare to follow as 25 years ago two police officers enter a scene of slaughter at Castle House, an old resort hotel that eventually becomes the asylum. The descriptions of the scene are palpable.
– “The raw iron stench of blood that soured the room.”
– “Officer Maitlin lifted the disembodied limb from the red goo of the floor like a soiled party favor.”
– “The red glistening mess that had once been her belly opened wider. Too wide.”
Flash forward to the present, and we meet the Everyman hero wannabe David Shale, a college student visiting his Aunt Elsie in Castle Point. David meets the other protagonist Christy Sorensen when she accidentally hits him with her car while he’s riding his bike. While David is a typical college student, Christy is more than she seems.
There’s also a couple of thugs named TG and Billy who kidnap women for the evil Doctor Rockford, who runs the newly opened Castle House Asylum.
While at the town’s bar called the Clam Shack, a drunk David meets a woman named Brenda Bean. She gives him a kiss, puts her phone number in his pocket, and tells him to call her when he’s sober. However, Brenda disappears that same night, one of several women recently missing from the area.
The rest of the novel follows David and Christy as they investigate the disappearances. While the two protagonists search, The 13th cuts to scenes of Doctor Rockford’s work at the asylum and to Brenda who wakes up a prisoner in the hellish building unaware of how she arrived there. The climax is a suspenseful battle between good and evil with Brenda’s life and a demon’s summoning on the line.
21st Century Gothic
With a solid 3.7 rating out of 5 stars on Amazon, The 13th received critical acclaim from a host of award-winning horror authors, including Edward Lee, Gary A. Braunbeck, and Jonathan Maberry.
“A double-barreled shotgun blast of macabre entertainment,” Lee writes. “The 13th is an expert amalgamation of grotesquerie, eroticism, mystery, and pitch-black occult horror that no fan of the genre can miss.”
Maberry says “John Everson’s The 13th is one of the creepiest and most compelling novels I’ve read in years. It’s a brand-new genre: 21st Century Gothic that has smarts and scares in equal measures.”
Oh, and about that ending. Braunbeck called the final sequence “shattering” and “the kind of ending that only the best horror/dark fantasy writers can pull off, the kind of ending that makes the finale of Pet Sematary look almost like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. John Everson’s The 13th is the first out-and-out horror novel in a long while to actually scare the **** out of me while reading it.”
Everson is about to release his 14th novel, The Night Mother, which is a sequel to his most extreme work NightWhere. Other notable books by the author include Siren, The House by the Cemetery, The Pumpkin Man, The Family Tree, and the three novels in The Curburide Chronicles.
Everson is one of the few others who can write extreme erotic horror and keep it grounded in some semblance of reality even when demonic forces are at work. Everson is a fan of 1970s Euro-horror films, particularly the Italian giallo genre like Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and it shows in his visceral descriptions of taboo subject matter as he pushes the boundaries between sex and violence.
One of the more cinematic horror writers of the 21st Century, Everson has developed an eclectic catalogue of work over the past 19 years. While demons and erotic horror are his most popular subjects, he’s also written novels featuring the mythological siren, ghosts, spiders, voodoo, and witches. He even penned a modern giallo titled Five Deaths for Seven Songbirds.
However, The 13th is the one that stuck with me long after I read it. Yes, it’s because of the ending, but also because it had so many elements of the horror genre I enjoy. It was a 21st Century novel with a 1970s edge and 1980s vibe. It had a main character I related to in David Shale and one I admired in Christy Sorensen. Everson created a creepy and soulless villain with Doctor Rockford. And what horror fan doesn’t like a long-abandoned building with a disturbing past mysteriously showing signs of life again.
Everson’s first two novels were Covenant and its sequel Sacrifice. They were both excellent books, but The 13th was the first novel where Everson stepped away from the world of the Curburide. I’m glad he did as Everson delivered a blood-drenched, demon-charged powerhouse of a tale with The 13th.
In the Prologue, one of the police officers discovers a woman barely alive and asks, “Who are you?”
“The Twelfth,” she whispered before dying.
Such a perfectly ominous beginning to the horrific ride that is The 13th.