I recently won a GoodReads giveaway for a book called "Dark Mountain" by Robert Michael. It is about an ex-cop from Buffalo, New York named Jacob Barclay who likes to try his hand at adventuring. The only issue is that his adventures always turn into disasters of some sort or another. The trip he goes on in Dark Mountain turns out to be more of one than usual. Instead of injuring himself badly like he usually does, he finds himself involved in trying to save a little girl, Molly, from her homicidal family.
The imagery Michael uses to describe the small town in Arkansas where he stops to buy camping gear and rations could be spot on for just about any tiny, one horse town anywhere in North America. The lone, solitary small town police officer that comes off as too big for his britches is one of my favourite characters in the book. He's not particularly likable, but he amused me.
You don't have to be in the South to experience closed-mouthed people that are wary of strangers, especially strangers that are from far away. That's just small towns. While I have not been to the mountainous regions of Arkansas, I do know mountain weather, being from Northern British Columbia, and I have friends in Arkansas that have described what it's like there on more than one occasion and have shown a picture or two. That, too, was spot on.
Michael, for a first time novel-length author, does know how to engage a reader. I wouldn't call the novel riveting, but it was entertaining. If have any major criticism at all, it's that the scene with the runaway (I'm being vague so I don't spoil too much -- send me a message if you want more details) got me far too invested and then I was sorely let down at the end when it turned out that it wasn't actually going to go anywhere. I was more than let down. I was really annoyed about it.
I so wanted the runaway to turn out to be Brian, the aforementioned little girl's older brother who was starting to display the same sort of killer instincts that their father did. The runaway was far too overdeveloped to just be a fly-by-night character that I read about for too many pages and learned far too much about. If he hadn't been in there at all or if he'd just taken up a little of my time and I hadn't learned so much about him, I would have given Dark Mountain 4.5 stars out of five, rather than only three.
The imagery is fantastic and can easily let you create a picture in your mind of what is going on and, for me, that is a must have in any novel. The plot could have used a little more polish in parts. The bits that were clearly supposed to be the parts that earned the title its "thriller" classification weren't as thrilling and terrifying as they could have been. I wanted far more detail about the lives of Molly and Brian's parents and their blood fetish. I didn't feel disgusted, like I felt like I should have.
The occult elements that were mentioned that should have elicited some sort of emotion were simply noted in a sort of detached manner and then I moved on to see what would happen next. The reasons the serial murdering couple did what they did should have made me get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it was much less of an event than the runaway for me. The darkness of the mountain wasn't dark enough for me. I may have read too many Michael Slade, Stephen King, and Peter Straub novels, though.
Overall, Dark Mountain is a good read. Recommended? Definitely. Dark Mountain deserves a read if for nothing else than you'll be missing out on Robert Michael's talent for describing people and places. Again, the story is a good one; I just felt it could have used a little more work in places.
You can pick up the Kindle version here.