Title: We are Monsters
Author: Brian Kirk
Published by: Flame Tree Press
Publication date: Jan 23rd 2020
I was given an advanced reader copy of this book by the author and publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Alex Drexler is a psychiatrist at Sugar Hill Mental asylum and working on a formula to cure schizophrenia. However, things don’t go according to plan. Losing his funding and testing on his patients is only the first thing to go wrong – deciding to test his experimental drug on the hospitals most dangerous patient unleashes his inner demons much to the peril of the other residents within Sugar Hill.
On with the review.
I wanted to like We are Monsters a lot more than I did. I was ready for a good bone-chilling horror story and anything set in a mental institute usually fits the bill nicely. Sadly, however, We are Monsters failed to horrifically chill me in any way other than dreading picking up my e-reader to get through it!
To start with, I felt absolutely nothing for Alex Drexler, the main character, after the end of the second chapter. In the first chapter, I was all ears for the man and his concerns for his clinical trials being dropped. Then he does something horrible (by accident) to his wife beloved pet dog and is more concerned about not getting laid that night then he is for her well-being. This guy is meant to be a psychiatrist, a pretty poor one if all he can think about is getting off rather than caring about someone he is meant to be in love with. So, bang, any positive thoughts I have for the main character are gone and sadly, my attitude towards him didn’t change throughout the novel either – despite him having a decent back story that might have evoked other feelings in me should he have been written a bit more sympathetically.
Other characters, Eli and Angela, are better written and more interesting than Alex but I just couldn’t seem to get on board with them either. Finding them somewhat forced – we have the traditional stories of ‘dead wife’ and ‘childhood abuse’ – and I found that there was little to get my teeth into. Possibly because the descriptions are lengthy to the point of jarring. Elements of characters (Physical or emotional descriptions) would be thrown in between passages of conversation and they interrupted the flow of speech to the point I had to back-pedal just to remember what characters were talking about.
Despite this, however, I enjoyed the first half of the book. The backstories of the characters (that was needed) were well delivered and led me to want to know more about them. To see if they had more to offer than it would first seem. The conflict between Alex and Elis medical approached was certainly a good dose of drama and I was keen to find out how this would play out.
Then about halfway through We are Monsters changes and attempts to become the horror story that we’re promised in the blurb. This is where the book undoes itself. It changed from a well-considered, almost gripping, novel into nonsensical drivel. I know that We are Monsters is set in a mental asylum, but when Alex Drexlers experimental drug shifts reality to the viewpoint of one of the patients, the plot lost it’s grounding in reality and let me scratching my head in utter confusion. I understood the basic premise of what was going on, but the story took on a different light and it became quite a struggle to read through. I am all for the use of imagination and I believe I have a great suspension of disbelief, but what happened in We are Monsters was not a shining example of the creative mind at work.
A lot of the second half of the book is spent in an alternative reality for the main characters. This is where the horror comes to the fore, and I credit Brian Kirk for treading in waters that the more faint-hearted author would fear to tread, but when the horror is overdone it becomes a dull read and We are Monsters suffers from this. It feels like there was a lot of repetition in this half of the novel and I think that adds to the confusion.
I don’t like to talk too much about the ending of books in my reviews as I’d encourage people to pick up a book I’ve reviewed and start a conversation about it, however, the lack of any explanation as to how the events came to be in We are Monsters was the final nail in the coffin for me. If there was just a single thread that grounded the story, in reality, I’d have felt much happier about it; but the ending on offer here was no better than ‘then they all woke up from their dream/nightmare.’ It was weak at best and frustrating at worst.
I’d like to believe that We are Monsters just wasn’t for me and I am eager to read more by Brian Kirk to see if this was the case. Maybe psychological horror isn’t right for this authors writing style and I’d love to give him the benefit of the doubt here as there were just enough good parts to We are Monsters that might be better applied to the thriller genre instead.