Synopsis: When treasure hunters excavate the long-lost wreck of the steamship Arcadia from a Kansas cornfield, a buried creature awakens – a mindless assassin of accursed earth, shaped like a man though in no way mortal, created to kill a slave trader in 1856. With the original target long dead, the monster sets its sight on the man’s closest surviving descendant . . . a burned-out IT technician named Ben Middleton. Nothing could have prepared Ben for the horror now aimed directly at his lackadaisical life. But he isn’t only being chased by the monster, and it’s not just his own life in danger. Ben must pull himself together to not only save himself, but his estranged teenage son, Charley. Yet who are the mysterious people chasing him, and how do you stop a 150-year-old monster with no ‘Off’ switch?
Kill Monster stood out for me due to its ingenious concept, which is effectively a “reverse-Terminator”, in that it features a seemingly invincible assassin in a determined hunt for his prey. Unlike Terminator however, Kill Monster’s antagonist is from the past who has awoken in the future, unrelenting in his mission to exterminate the descendants of his original target. Sean Doolittle strikes gold with this subversion of the genre, and the opening of the novel sets up the threat of the Golem perfectly – transitioning from the slave traders of the nineteenth century to a mid-mannered IT technician. Despite the blockbuster nature of the plot, Doolittle never skimps on the character development and humanity of his lead characters, who feel rooted to reality even when things become increasingly more fantastical for them.
At the risk of overusing the comparisons to Terminator, the novel feels similarly paced to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as the opening third deals with the introduction and initial encounter with the unstoppable Golem, before it diverts for a series of chapters before returning to the main threat in the action-packed finale. Personally, I would have preferred that the Golem was a presence throughout the entire book, but given the way Doolittle builds it up as a force of nature killing its way through Midwestern America, it is not logical to have it consistently nipping at Middleton’s heels. Even when the Golem isn’t directly involved in the story, Doolittle provides us with snippets of the chaos it is unleashing upon the locals and the collateral damage accrued against Ben and Charley’s survival. In fact, the novel asks the pertinent question as to whether their two lives are worth more than the countless others lost and whether they should have just given up – a question that could be posed to a great number of blockbuster movies.
Doolittle makes up for the Golem’s occasional absence by introducing a secondary antagonist into the novel by the name of Malcom Frost, an aged burn-victim who has nefarious plans for our heroes and the kill monster itself. Frost exudes a real sense of menace from the minute he appears in the novel, and Doolittle could easily write a spin-off novel on the character. In fact, the novel itself merely peeks at the supernatural potential in this world he has created, leaving plenty of storytelling potential to be mined. There is a scene early on in the book with Frost that is so horrific that it instantly had me hooked, and demonstrated the detached insanity of the character. Let’s put it this way, I certainly wouldn’t be inviting him over for dinner at my place…
Tonally, Kill Monster leans more towards action-thriller than horror, although there are some extremely graphic sequences in the book – particularly in the aftermath of the Golem attacks. Doolittle writes with a cinematic flair, and I could definitely see this book adapted as a low-budget Netflix movie. The novel has the pace of a Dan Brown book at times, particularly in the early stages, with plenty of cliff-hangers designed to get you to read just one more chapter. There were also lots of surprise twists and turns, which added more context to the world in which Ben and Charley had found themselves in. Doolittle’s prose rattles along at a fine speed, yet never feels rushed. Characters are given time to react and respond to the chaos around them, and the action set-pieces are spaced apart to give the novel the motion of a roller-coaster, continually ramping up excitement.
Kill Monster is a book that does its fantastic “elevator pitch” justice, delivering a surprisingly character-driven narrative alongside the thrilling action that one would expect from the genre. Doolittle writes with a charming sense of humour that allows readers to naturally identify with the characters (I mean, who hasn’t accidentally let out a fart next to the office printer?) and ensures the novel is immensely readable. Filled with a great cast of characters, who he isn’t afraid to do nasty things to, I was surprised at how much I actually engaged with them all and wanted them to have happy endings. Overall, Kill Monster was a fantastic read that had me gripped from the outset and never failed to entertain. Its delicate mix of humour, action and horror worked perfectly together and I would love to read more from Sean Doolittle in the future. If you’re a fan of the Terminator series (just the original two, obviously), or love the idea of an unstoppable Golem rampaging its way through Midwestern America, then you definitely should give Kill Monster a read.
Score – ★★★★
Kill Monster is available in hardback format from Amazon and all good book stores. It also debuted originally as an Audible audiobook, and can be downloaded free as part of its 3-month trial promotion.