Customer Reviews: Afraid
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on March 16, 2009
It may be the worst-kept secret in publishing that Jack Kilborn is the pseudonym of novelist J.A. Konrath. Fans of Konrath's Jack Daniel's serial killer novels know that he's not afraid to depict graphic violence. That knowledge is not going to prepare you for what you'll face in Afraid.

The plot is high concept, and simple enough to summarize in just a few sentences. Every major government, including our own, is experimenting in "Red-ops." Why turn soldiers into killers, when it's so much easier to turn killers into soldiers? And if you can use cutting-edge technology to enhance them, so much the better. One such Red-ops team of psycho killers accidentally crash lands in bucolic Safe Haven, Wisconsin. It's a terrible, terrible mistake, as the team launches into what they've been trained to do--kill and maim in the most terrifying (and may I add disgusting) way imaginable. Only the elderly town sheriff has begun to suspect that it may not be a mistake after all...

And it was that last bit, in the book's description, that got me. Not a mistake? What do they want? I was hooked. I mean HOOKED. I had important work to do, but once I had started it, I could not stop reading this book until I finished it. I read it in less than a day. The pacing of the novel was relentless, as was the subject matter. I had been told that this was a gory novel. In no way does that prepare you for the level of sickness you will encounter in this novel. I can not emphasize enough that Afraid is not for the faint of heart. If it were a film, I wouldn't have made it through the first five minutes. (Let's all hope they never make a movie.) Kilborn's creative, I'll give him that. I don't even know how a healthy mind goes to the places his went.

Ultimately, I give the novel four stars. When all was said and done, I was mildly disappointed in what all the furor was about. Was it enough to justify the events of the novel? And I wasn't sure, but I might have found a small plot hole. Mostly, I just can't give five stars to anything this revolting. On the plus side, there was actually some pretty fantastic storytelling. I'm a total sucker for characters like Stubin and Mathison. In addition to unremitting suspense, Kilborn threw in enough twists, reversals, and out-and-out surprises to keep me constantly on my toes. As much as I'd like to deny it, Afraid was damn entertaining.

If I sound conflicted, it's because I am. I'd like myself better if I liked this book less. This is sick, sick, sick stuff y'all. I'm going to recommend it to my mom--she loves psycho killers! Will I read Kilborn's next one? You betcha.
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on April 3, 2009
Too many of the novels I pick up get put back down with the feeling that I didn't get a good story.

This isn't one of them.

AFRAID, by Jack Kilborn, starts out with a quiet evening of fishing on a small town lake. It quickly turns deadly for the residents of Safe Haven. A helicopter carrying a secret army special ops force crashes at the edge of town, and soon people start getting sliced and diced faster than you can say shish-kabob.

As the body count climbs, Sheriff Streng must confront five of the deadliest killers he has ever encountered. And the more he learns, the more he suspects that the helicopter crash may not have been an accident. What's more, the men hunting him aren't just killing to get their kicks (much as they enjoy their work). They're after something...or someone.

Streng gets some valuable assistance from a young fireman (Josh) and a single mom (Fran), who help track down the killers. There's a surprising boost to the story from Duncan, Fran's 12 year old son, who responds to the horror around him with a courage that escapes most of the adults in the novel.

The villains are more than just stereotypes. Kilborn takes the trouble to get into their minds to show us why they do the things they do. We also get a wonderfully delicious ending that left me cheering for more.

AFRAID will keep you up tonight, so don't forget to lock your doors and bolt the windows. And don't be very AFRAID.
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on July 4, 2010
I love thrillers, but this book unsuccessfully attempts to use gore and violence as a means of shocking the reader in the way that a truly well-written thriller novel does through plot and character development and ever-escalating intrigue. I decided to buy this book because it got so many good reviews with comments such as "you won't be able to put it down." I thought I'd just skim through the gore and focus on the suspense. Well...when don't read the gore in detail, you are left with very little. I got through about 20% of the book and put it down. I found the attacks on the people to be totally predictable; the only difference among the attacks was the gore that was described at their commission. Despite my interest in skimming through the gore, there was so much of it that I couldn't help from having really disturbing images floating around in my head. And conjuring disturbing gory images is not the same as eliciting fear, or keeping you at the edge of your seat with suspense. Does the idea of a villain "dancing with the naked mutilated corpse" of a woman keep you turning pages, or make you roll your eyes? And when these concepts are repeated again and again, it is tiresome. I am confused as to how this book has been given so many 5 stars. There are a lot of great thrillers out there. This is not one of them.
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on February 14, 2010
It took me almost 6 months to finish listening to this book on audio. My reason for finishing it at all was because I kept hoping it would get better. It didn't. There was no suspense - only gore. It was some of the most graphic violence I've ever been exposed to; even my husband (who is immune to such things in general) was caught squirming in his seat at times. I originally bought this book because of the good reviews. I'd read that it was 'non-stop action' and this is true but seriously, I feel that the plot was weak and completely unbelievable. Violence alone cannot carry a story. However, if you want to read in horrific detail about human beings being burned alive, body parts being eaten, being violently tortured, or hacking one's own limbs to bits, then this is your book.
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on June 8, 2009
Safe Haven, Wisconsin is a small town that likes it privacy. It chose, years ago, to forgo the economic benefits of tourism in favor of the peaceful and quiet existence of rural life. The town only has one major road, and a County Sheriff who patrols on a part-time basis. Unfortunately the peace and tranquility of Safe Haven explode in an instant one crisp autumn night when a helicopter crashes and explodes near the town.

The local volunteer fire department responds, as does the County Sheriff, but neither of the entities is prepared for what has been unleashed on Safe Haven. The town is quickly shutdown--roadblocks at each end of town--and a group of raving killers is set loose on the populace. The novel opens with the slow and painful torture of an elderly couple and swiftly moves between several characters, including the Sheriff, the firefighters, an old woman and a young boy, a waitress, a scientist and his pet monkey, an eccentric old crook, and the killers.

AFRAID is an explosion of a novel. It opens hard and fast, and never lets up. The plot is crisp, and what it lacks in believability, it makes up for in taut and forward-looking action and suspense. The characters are well-drawn and fulfill their roles, within the story, with precision. The prose is straight forward and literate in a thriller sense--

"Streng wrapped his fingers around her wrist, and for a moment his body stretched between Ajax and his cousin's wife. Then the giant jerked hard, breaking Streng's grip, making his face skip across the rug and causing a friction burn on his cheek. He was hauled into the hallway, past the staircase--so close yet so out of reach--and into Sal's bedroom, where Ajax lifted him by his leg and held him upside down like a little girl's doll.

The strength of the novel is its ability to envelope the reader with its pacing, action, and terror. The bad guys are worse than one can imagine, and the good guys are seemingly doomed without hope of redemption or rescue. It is reminiscent of 1980s and 1990s Dean Koontz--it particularly reminded me of Koontz's DARK RIVERS OF THE HEART. It also has more than a semblance of the work of Richard Laymon, less the sex.

AFRAID is a novel that will appeal to anyone who likes stories with a high measure of action and a quick and tricky plot. It is a throw back in the horror-thriller genre, in that the writing is tight and there is not an ounce of padding. It is pure action and suspense, and more fun than two modern thrillers combined.

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on January 29, 2013
A pet peeve in literature has always been the one-dimensional villain. This book has a half dozen of them. The crazy who eats toes off people, the other crazy who like to burn people, the crazy who like to slit throats. Most of them seem to like to giggle as they confront someone.

You might be gaining a sense of another issue: the gore. Excessive to the extreme! An example from the book where a character Jessie Lee falls onto a pile of 50 (no lie) hacked up bodies: "She flailed out her arms, trying to climb up, but struggling slicked her in blood and slippery fluids, making her slide down farther. Gory, lukewarm limbs poked her. Pale faces with rictus grins kissed her. More shifting, and a cadaver fell on top of Jessie Lee, sealing her in a decomposing human tomb. This fueled her hysteria, prompting more wiggling, advancing her descent. By the time she exerted enough self-control to stop squirming, Jessie Lee had burrowed halfway into the pile. It was dark, but unfortunately not dark enough that she couldn't see. The dead were stacked all around, smooshing Jessie Lee on all sides. Her face pressed against someone's lacerated chest. Her right hand became stuck deep in a fatal neck wound."

And after reading in-depth of a Jessie Lee's struggle to escape, and then to have her throat slit left me feeling robbed. It's rare I abandon a book halfway through, however I couldn't take anymore. I wanted to shower the gore, depravity and hopelessness off after reading.
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on August 10, 2009
I must admit I read some of the other reviews and kept wondering what people saw in this that was even a little bit scary. It was bloody and gory, yes. Unremittingly. But not even a little bit scary--I mean not at all.

Part of the problem with this is it's rather poor pacing--in fact, it has none or what little it has is crudely and poorly done. A woman has her toes bitten off and then they chat about why the guy didn't ask her out on a date. I assume it was intended as a relief (rather badly needed) from the unremitting gore, but instead it came across as frankly stupid. NO ONE would have had that conversation. For the most part though, the novel went from one gore scene to another with pretty much no changes in pace. Well, even gore can get boring--and it did.

The other problem is that when you start with flaying a woman alive in the first chapter, it pretty much leaves you no where to go to up the stakes. Again, a basic problem in pacing.

And then there is the elderly sheriff, Streng. Did anyone actually believe that he could take the punishment that this novel put him through. I found it totally unconvincing. I didn't believe it even for a second.

Duncan, the kid, you knew was totally safe from the first which means that every threat to him was dismissible. And a 12 year old kid as the most heroic (but totally safe) character in the novel pretty much ruined the whole thing for me.

And the animals--OH, please. The dog was bad enough. But the monkey? It was simply eye-rolling.

That leaves the bad guys, which I thought were the lamest and least developed I've seen in a thriller in a long time. They were barely two dimensional and each conveniently had a different fixation to add "spice" to the mix. I felt like the whole thing had been put together from a rather poorly divised "horror cake mix" listing add 1 tbsp of flaying, 2 tbsp of fire, etc.

What he left out was both good pacing and originality.
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on September 6, 2009
This is an excellent book. The basic premise reminded me of something Dean Koontz would write. A group of ordinary people are confronted with a horrifying situation. Except I don't think Dean Koontz's stuff was ever this intense or this violent.
The pace of this book is relentless. It gets scary on page 3 and doesn't let up for the next 340 pages. This kind of sucks when you're looking for a good place to put it down for the night, because there isn't one.
I highly recomend this book.(unless you're squeamish)
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on April 25, 2009
I cannot for the life of me understand how so many people on here gave this book over 3 stars. It is a mediocre story at best, full of plot holes large enough to walk through and uses a style of suspense more akin to a 7th grader's weekly writing project. The characters were poorly developed, and even for those who were well developed, you just can't care less about them from an emphatic point of view because Kilborn just doesn't make them seem important. The "gore" and "scares" in this book had me rolling my eyes more than anything because it's blatantly obvious that Kilborn is trying so desperately to frighten the viewers, but because he takes it so far, you end up being desensitized to his "horror".

He continually uses cliche cliffhangers such as "He felt that he was finally free of the terror that wrapped his mind like a vice as he climbed out of the portrait window and into the cold air. That's when the killer grabbed his foot. *Next Chapter Begins* Although I just made up that passage, you get the point. Almost every chapter ends in such a "suspensful" way that by the end of the book you know that nothing story-changing will happen to whoever is stuck in the predicament. I give this book two stars instead of one only because Kilborn was a genius in making me want to buy it, so I have to give him full credit for the work. Unfortunately, the book failed to come through with anything meaningful, which ended up leaving a poor taste in my mouth.
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on March 1, 2011
I'm not one to usually not finish a book, but this just so happened to be one of those rare occasions. I just couldn't bring myself to read anymore after the monkey did the Macarena dance *sigh* yes, you read that right ... I can't make that up - especially not in a horror story - unless that was the horror. And I appreciate the fact that other folks enjoyed this book, but I wonder if I read the same one `cause I didn't think it was worth finishing.

I actually do believe the story had promise and like other reviewers mentioned, it sure did include a lot of gore and suspense that kept me on edge ... the first two scenes I read it in. The third time it started getting old ... the fourth and beyond just got ridiculous. The monkey dance came half way through the book, so I shudder to think how much more outrageous it got after that.

In my opinion, it seemed this was a first draft of several, separate gory "scenes" stuck together with a weak story line, clichéd characters, some really bad dialogue (why would you discuss why someone didn't date you after recently having your toe chewed off - still with an open wound?), and several "logical" mistakes that could have been caught if only the book had been properly edited. For example, before one of the characters is getting ready to have something squeezed hard, "Jack" writes, "If asked which was worse, a tooth drilled without anesthetic or getting kicked in the balls, any man would choose the former." Now, I don't know about other men, but I would actually choose the latter as being worse, thank you very much. And I "think" this is what the author meant (otherwise why write this sentence?), but he used former (first) instead of latter (last). C'mon editor ... really?

If the author ever decides to reread his work, properly edit the book, and republish it, I "might" actually like to see what he comes up with ... as long as he gets rid of the monkey dance.
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