Author Jeff Strand is best known for his comedy infused horror, such as the Andrew Mayhem series, The Severed Nose, and Benjamin’s Parasite just to name a few. And though I do love me some seriously irreverent Strand, I also admit that my two favorite Strand books to date, Pressure and Dweller, are the ones in which he included the least amount of humor, instead focusing on character development and building tension.
Strand’s newest release, the novella Faint of Heart, is nothing but wall-to-wall tension. Rebecca Harpster isn’t wild about the idea of spending a weekend alone at a cabin in Alaska, but she also isn’t selfish enough to stop her husband, Gary, from going on a camping trip with his two best friends. And though she’s still adjusting to their new life in Alaska, Rebecca knows the house is safe and that Gary’s the one more likely to have an unpleasant weekend camping outside in temperatures hovering around the freezing mark.
As the weekend passes with no word from Gary, however, Rebecca becomes increasingly concerned something awful has happened. Her worst nightmare seems to have come true when a State Trooper shows up on the doorstep late Sunday evening with news there’s been a dire accident. Despite her panic, Rebecca is aware enough to realize there is something off about the Trooper. Instead of letting him in, she demands his name and badge number, intending to call and confirm his identity. And that’s when her nightmare really begins.
Her instincts correct, Rebecca discovers her phone lines have been cut and that the man’s real purpose for being there is to abduct her. Turns out he’s part of a duo who claim to be holding Gary hostage after having put him through unimaginable horrors all weekend. The only thing that kept them from killing him, Rebecca’s told, was Gary’s passionate devotion to her and his instance he’d do anything to be reunited with her. Well, now the disturbed duo want Rebecca to show the same level of devotion and prove herself worthy of having Gary returned to her. All she has to do is relive, and survive, his weekend from Hell.
Strand has designed Faint of Heart to maximize tension. The remote Alaskan location makes it easy to believe the ease with which the villains could pull off their plan undetected, and also explains why Rebecca is unable to easily summon help. Further, their refusal to provide Rebecca with proof of life unless she begins playing their game leaves real doubt in both her mind and the reader’s as to whether Gary is actually even still alive. Not willing to risk being the one responsible for his death – one she’s been assured will be prolonged and horrific – if he is alive and she doesn’t play along, Rebecca is forced to relive 48 hours of pain and panic, all while trying desperately to figure out a way to get a step ahead of the sick game she’s being forced to play.
Unlike most of Strand’s previous work, there is absolutely nothing humorous about Faint of Heart. This is 100% adrenaline-fueled tension and terror. Rebecca is a sympathetic, earnest, and believable character, one who finds herself in a seemingly no-win situation in which failure means not only her death, but the death of her husband. Over the course of a taut, relentless, harrowing weekend in the Alaskan wilderness Rebecca is forced to question everything she thought she knew about herself and learns what she’s really made of… and exactly how far she’s willing to go to save the person she loves most in the world.
What she learns and whether she’s successful, well, this is Jeff Strand. Assume nothing, but be assured of two things: Faint of Heart is not for the faint of heart (I had to, ok?), and it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jeff Strand isn’t “just” a humor-horror writer. Strand is a big-time talent who deserves to be recognized for his amazingly diverse catalog of work (humor, horror, thriller… fairy tales!), one that only keeps getting better with every release.
Faint of Heart is currently available as an e-book, with a paperback edition to follow from Gallows Press.
PS – Also be sure to check out Jeff’s (most recent) guest post, “Why would you want to make an author cry?”