“Stanton builds chilling suspense with atmospheric details and the town’s legends … A dark, richly imagined exploration of fear and loss.”
It is not a normal morning in Great Water. A woman tries to kill herself, shouting about dead people, and security guard Martin barely saves her. Architect Lance goes to meet a friend for a surfing lesson, but never arrives and doesn’t come back home. Voices are talking to people through their TVs. The moon has turned blood red. Several people are missing, and the police don’t seem to care. People are seeing Vikings and hearing circus music. A child dead for 80 years appears and then is gone, leaving behind her famous wooden toy. A stampede of horses runs through someone’s house and vanishes.
Christopher Stanton’s Kings of the Earth is an oddity in that it is a surfer-themed horror story set in — of all places — the upper peninsula of Michigan in the fictional town of Great Water.
Great Water is a place with a history. In 1918, fisherman Jack Spivey famously went insane and killed a little girl and her mother before killing himself. A whole tourist industry has been built around the Spivey murders, tours and toys included. That and rad surfing are really all the town has going for it. Oh, and did I mention that the town is haunted?
ALTERNATING POINTS OF VIEW TAKE READERS ON A CRAZY RIDE
The events of the novel take place over the course of a single crazy weekend, unfolding through the alternating point of view of three characters — Jenny, Martin and Eric. Jenny’s much older husband, Lance Bloomquist, is one of the titular Kings — a trio of surfers from 30 years ago. Lance is now a famous architect … and mysteriously gone missing.
Eric Calhoun is the teenage son of another King, Duane, who long ago fled to the more salubrious climate of California to open a surf shop, leaving behind his wife and son. Jenny’s husband Lance has been teaching Eric how to “soul surf.”
Martin Van Lottom is a young failure of a security guard who seems to have no connection to the Kings other than living in the same town. He comes off as a bit crazy, and it’s ultimately unclear if it’s the red moon’s influence or if he’s got his own set of problems.
Over this haunted and haunting pair of days, the trio’s paths overlap as they try to solve an ancient mystery with the help of a ghost hunter. Along the way, there’s a whirlwind of bizarre goings-on, and it all seems to have something to do with the woods near Spivey Point.
EXCELLENT STORYTELLING AND A PAGE-TURNING READ
Kings of the Earth has been receiving some indie press attention since its publication last year; in fact, it was recently nominated for a 2020 TopShelf Book Award. It comes as no surprise. Stanton’s storytelling makes this a fun read, and the novel on a whole is extremely well written and will keep you glued to the page. He has a keen sense of pacing — nothing feels dragged out or hastily abridged — and there’s an optimal balance between dialogue, action and description. The bizarre storyline keeps you guessing without overwhelming your ability to keep up with all the strangeness.
Martin and Eric both have unsettling encounters with the third King, who is the local loan shark and drug dealer and also a bit of a boogeyman figure to the children and teens of the town, living as he does out in the deep woods. Martin’s mother is the local expert on the Spivey murders, and Eric’s mother’s boyfriend plays Spivey in the docu-drama that premiers the weekend the novel’s action takes place.
The novel constantly brings up questions, answers some of them, and brings up more. Is it possible to bring back Lance’s missing, presumed dead sister? What do the Vikings have to do with this? Is there another “Bermuda Triangle,” one that is time-based, centered on Jenny’s house?
Some of the answers might not be the ones you were hoping for, and the ending might not be happy, but this is not a romance novel, after all. These people are haunted. The reader will be too, after finishing this ultimately satisfying tale of a recurring haunting and three people attempting to end the curse on a small town.