Boy In The Box opens with the main protagonist, Jonathan Hollis, waiting in line to kneel before the coffin of his former friend, Gene Hendrickson. Two other mourners, the Braddock brothers, share a dark secret with Jonathan, one which led Gene to take his own life. The four men, friends since childhood, lost touch with each other following a hunting trip a decade earlier. A trip intended to be a stag party turned into something altogether darker, ending in tragedy and leaving each of them haunted in their own separate ways by memories and overwhelming guilt. Now the three survivors must return to the Gulch or their deed a decade ago will be discovered, destroying each of their lives and families futures forever.
Jonathan doesn’t want to go back and argues to leave things as they are. Against his better judgement, he is persuaded to return to the cabin in the woods and recover the thing that has laid buried for the last ten years. The trip does not start well and rapidly goes from bad to worse. Even so, what none of the friends realise is something waits for them in the forest.
Personally, I find something inherently sinister about woods and Fitch describes this vividly, building up a sense of unease in the characters and reader from the start of the novel. What waits between the tall trees is unknown but is gradually revealed as the novel progresses, the sense of dread growing with each chapter.
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The description and atmosphere it creates, are the great strengths of this book. The forest is alive with hidden dark horrors and the sheer vastness of the wilderness is overwhelming to the men trekking through it with the Box and its dreadful contents. The isolation is palpable and a scene in a lake is so visual it has stayed with me days after reading the final pages. The time in the woods is sharply drawn and well contrasted with the safe and comfortable lives back home each man is trying so hard to protect.
For much of the novel, the tension was taut and I found myself reading swiftly, turning pages, keen to find out where the story was going but there are periods when the narrative tension and drive flagged, the description slowed the story a little too much and was repetitive at times. The writing throughout out is excellent but for me got in the way of the story in places.
Each character has suffered and coped with what happened in their own different way; guilt a far heavier burden and more troubling for some to bear than others. Gene failed to move on, the events of the first trip leading directly to his demise. Jonathan is a well-developed character and I understood his fear and horror during the story. His troubled conscience never lets him rest, eating away at him, his marriage, every aspect of his life as the years pass by. He is a family man and cares deeply for his young son. The family dynamics and relationship with his wife and son are not given much room in the story although Jonathan thinks of them often. Greater direct interaction would have enabled better development between characters and investment in what Jonathan stands to lose. This would perhaps have had a far greater impact on the reader at the end of the story.
The horror the men have been running from for so long comes together in a satisfying ending that is both disturbing and fitting to the story as a whole. This is a horror story for readers who enjoy suspense and creeping dread. The writing is strong and flows beautifully but at times this slowed things down a little too much. Overall though, an unsettling read which stays with you after the last page is turned. There is much for the horror reader to enjoy in Boy In The Box.
Boy In The Box by Marc E. Fitch review is published by Flame Tree Press.