Horror and suspense stories – good horror and suspense stories – live and breathe by their pacing and atmosphere. Without the proper foundation laid in world building, readers become passive observers waiting for the next jump scare or gory shot to tide them over until the next one. To make something that lasts, something that sticks in the mind of readers, horror and suspense stories require a level of immersion and investment. We need to be drawn into the world with just enough clues sprinkled about so that when everything goes off-kilter we’re scrambling to solve the mystery along with the protagonist. A missing detective uncovering a huge secret, an innocuous house in a seemingly quiet Oregon town, and an alleged serial killer casually leaning in the doorway while a pot of bloody meat simmers on the stove should unnerve us only because our interest is piqued.
Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson continue to flesh out the world of Buckaroo, Oregon in Nailbiter #2 as we learn more about the circumstances that led Edward Charles Warren, aka Nailbiter, to wind up back in his hometown that just happens to be the origin point of sixteen other serial killers collectively known as the Buckaroo Butchers. Found not guilty just eight months prior to the beginning of the book, Warren apparently became Detective Carroll’s obsession, prompting the detective to all but move to Buckaroo in order to unlock the mystery behind the Butchers, spending most of his time going to Warren’s place to ask him questions. When Finch and Sheriff Crane come with questions of their own about Carroll’s disappearance, Warren is cooperative to a point, though he can’t resist toying with his visitors, which doesn’t sit too well with Finch. Their interaction with Warren is brief, cut off when a fire is reported at the motel where Carroll was staying. Rushing into the burning building to salvage his friend’s files. In the midst of the flames, however, he discovers a body, possibly Carroll’s, and while our arsonist is later revealed, someone else is clearly pulling the strings. Is there yet another Buckaroo Butcher to add to the list or is it someone we’ve already met?
Nailbiter is already proving itself to be a steady burn of escalating murder and mayhem as information about Buckaroo and its inhabitants come to light. It’s the kind of town where everyone manages to know your business and continually throws past indiscretions in your face for good measure. The most interesting character, unsurprisingly, is the Nailbiter himself. Many serial killers have been described as charismatic and Warren certainly has just enough charisma to offset his unnerving demeanor. He’s actually kind of likeable, which is disturbing in and of itself considering his glee at butchering a cow as blood practically rains down on him and the flies that seem to be following him wherever he goes. But he gets in a few good lines and there’s even a well placed Silence of the Lambs reference for good measure lest we think Nailbiter is trying to coast on the same story. I have far more faith in Williamson to pay homage where he needs to while still taking the story in a completely different direction.
I did have a couple of favorite sequences in the book that are worth mentioning as well. One is the stalking of the first true victim from the prospective Butcher’s point of view. The angles are perfect and with each panel we know the victim is done for no matter how hard they try to run. The shots are perfectly set up and even though we don’t see the actual murder, the next panel gives us all the information we need – a nice juicy steak. There’s a bit of a running motif in this issue of food and butchery; Warren’s stew, Finch’s steak, and even Sheriff Crane’s dripping burger are subtle reminders of the savagery lurking in the town. Speaking of savagery, my second favorite sequence was Finch’s rundown of just a few more of Buckaroo’s well-known serial killers. It may seem like superfluous information, but it’s just as important in building up what makes this little town in Oregon so baffling in the kinds of citizens it produces.
Rating – 10/10
Final Thoughts: I wonder how Warren feels about fava beans?