The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum



Ketchum was a man way ahead of his time. In 1989, he wrote The Girl Next Door. There was nothing on the shelves remotely like it by other authors. There was nothing as brutal, as gut-wrenching, or emotionally draining as The Girl Next Door. This kind of fiction wouldn’t see the light of day for another 10-20 years and no one has done it as well as Ketchum did almost 30 years ago.

Meg and her sister Susan’s parents are killed in an automobile accident. They come to live next door to 12-year old David. Ruth, a single-mom whose rough-around-the-edges demeanor always made her home inviting to David and his peers. You could sneak a beer, take a drag off a cigarette and she wouldn’t care. When the girls move in, David begins to have a crush on Meg. But as time passes, it is apparent that all is not well in the household. Meg begins to confide in David of Ruth abusing her. David can’t believe it. Ruth? The mom that was so fun to be around? Soon David discovers that the stories are true and they’re only the beginning of a long, downward spiral into horrific abuse and madness, and all he can do is watch it unfold in front of his very eyes.

The Girl Next Door is loosely based off a true story that took place in 1965. Just knowing that makes the world seem like a darker place. These types of stories weren’t told on the news back then like they are now. This was a time where skeletons were kept in the closet and people turned a blind eye from things they deemed to be “none of their business”. Ketchum’s story has a twisted, Lord of the Flies quality to it. Adults were trusted by children to always be right and do the right thing back then. Watching the children join in on Ruth’s madness towards the girls twists your guts with a chef’s knife. You can’t look away and just when you think it can’t get any worse…well, I’m sure you can finish that sentence yourself. The Girl Next Door is a story that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It’s that powerful.


5 Steel Doored Torture Chambers out of 5


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The Lost – Jack Ketchum


Right off the bat, The Lost starts with a bang (pardon the pun). Ray was a nutcase when he was a teenager and blew two girls away that were camping. His two friends, Tim and Jennifer, were sheep when they watched him do it and just stood there with their mouths open. They didn’t turn him in. They didn’t try to stop him. Nothing. Why did he do it? Just to see how it felt. Four years later, Ray is still just as big of a nutcase. The only difference is that he hasn’t killed anyone in those four years since. Tim and Jennifer are still the loyal sheep that follow Ray’s every move without question. The police were unable to pin the murders on Ray, but the officers on duty, Charlie and Ed, knew damn well that Ray did it. However, they didn’t have the proof the bust him. So, for 4 years, he walked a free man. But four years is a long time and Ray has never had anyone push his buttons to see what he would really do if his temper reached critical mass…until now.

The Lost is a fantastic tale told in Ketchum’s patented straight-forward way. He captures small town America. The characters are amazingly realistic and feel like you know someone exactly like them. When I say Ray is a nutcase, I mean it. On the surface, to the people that don’t really know him, he only seems like a harmless hood. But his evil is constantly simmering under a lid that is barely on and just waiting to go flying off. Those are the scariest kind of monsters. Realistic and unassuming until one day…BLAM! Ketchum does an amazing job ratcheting up the dread until the final act. If you haven’t read Ketchum yet, this one isn’t a bad one to start off with. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.


4 1/2 Bullets through the Eye out of 5
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The Passenger – Jack Ketchum


Passenger was a fast and furious story that followed my copy of Jack Ketchum’s Red. And what a hell of a story it was for the first three-quarters of it. The ending however took a severe right turn causing it to go from an amazing five star read to a four to a four and a half star read. We’ll call it a 4.25 star read. Janet is a defense attorney whose car breaks down on the highway. In her effort to get a ride to the repair garage, she hitches a ride with a woman that happens to remember her from high school. When the woman starts asking Janet questions from their old school days and following each one up with a pull from a whiskey bottle she kept in the glove compartment, along with a pistol, you knew that she’d hitched a ride with the wrong person. This is just the start of her day. Where it goes from there will blow you away. Again, for the first three-quarters of the story, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Time stood still as I devoured Passenger. Ketchum unwound a tale that was so horrifying, and yet so engrossing, I couldn’t put it down. Unfortunately, the ending came so far from left field that it seemed like Ketchum couldn’t decide how to end it and this was what he came up with while being under the infuence of something stronger than whiskey. To me, it didn’t seem to fit the story and thats disappointing since it was such a barnburner of a tale up to that point. Passenger is still worth the read simply for the the first three quarters. Its Ketchum in a groove that shows how good he can be. And who knows? Maybe you’ll like the ending.

4.25 out of 5 stars

Red – Jack Ketchum


Avery is a 67 year old veteran of the Korean War and a widow. Red is his dog and faithful companion. His wife bought him when he was a puppy for Avery and is one of the last links to his deceased wife. While fishing in a rural Maine stream one afternoon, he’s confronted by three spoiled punk teenagers with a shotgun. In an attempt to rob Avery, they are enraged to learn he only has a few dollars in his wallet all the way back in his parked truck. They then turn the shotgun on the dog instead. As they walk away laughing for murdering his dog, Avery is distraught at this senseless act of violence. He seeks out redemption. What he finds is that no one is able to help him. Not the police. Not his lawyer. Not the press. A dog is considered property, not a life, and Avery is on his own. In a story of revenge that pits the good old boy with good old fashioned values against a rich, shameless father that protects his spoiled punk kids with his bank account and connections in high places, you really feel for Avery. His losses from the past and present provide a very sympathetic underdog that is only trying to get the family to own up to what they’ve done and make things right. Your heart bleeds as you see how the deck is continually stacked against him.

This was my first Ketchum story and it’s hard not to think of Stephen King’s work when you’re reading a macabre story set in rural Maine. Ketchum, however, has his own style of delivery that is descriptive while not attempting to be a carbon copy of Maine’s more famous horror author. There were a couple of instances in the story where descriptions were muddled, but it wasn’t enough to make the tale less enjoyable. Anyone that has soft heart for a loyal canine will have their blood pressure rise 40 points after the first chapter.

4 out of 5 stars