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'89' by Stuart Keane is a claustrophobic delight

31 Days of Halloween

’89’ by Stuart Keane is a claustrophobic delight

A writer is on an overnight bus ride with only one other passenger: a beautiful woman named Jessica. Only Jessica might not be who she appears to be…

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

Ever had to ride on an overnight bus? Then you know the experience is scary enough on its own. Throw in the mental machinations of Stuart Keane, and it’s downright terrifying.

The Plot

When Greg Irving gets a last minute call to fill in for a writer at a conference, he basically has no choice but to accept. As a writer on the cusp of becoming a bankable name, he can’t afford to turn away any opportunities now–even if they do require him to take a 9-hour bus ride in the middle of the night.

Thankfully, the bus he’s on is completely empty except for one very attractive woman named Jessica, who takes a seat right next to him. In most cases, a guy might think this was a promising development. But when Jessica begins to reveal herself as an obsessive murderous sociopath, Greg must find a way to survive before the bus (and his heart) stops for good.

What Works

This is one of those books that will make you insanely uncomfortable while you’re reading it, but in a good way. Keane drops his main character into a pressure cooker and wastes no time turning up the heat. By the time the story reaches the first of its two shocking conclusions, you’ll be ready to jump right out of your skin.

Keane also does an incredible job of establishing the two main characters in a very short amount of time. I’ve read books ten times the length of this one where the characters didn’t feel as well-established.

Also, if you happen to work in the writing industry, there are lots of little easter eggs of frustration dropped along the way before things get spooky.

What Doesn’t

Remember when I mentioned “two conclusions” earlier. Keane mostly nails them. While many horror tales can barely get one ending right, this story nails you with a couple of hard jabs to the heart and stomach.

Unfortunately, the endings also stretch the suspension of disbelief enough to rip and tear some of the enjoyment out of things. This isn’t supposed to be a supernatural thriller, but I found myself disagreeing with that assessment quite a bit.

The Verdict

Clocking in at 83-pages, this novella is easy to digest in one sitting–and it’s so riveting that you’re virtually guaranteed to not be able to put it down.

Even with my minor quibbles about the ending, Keane’s superb writing had me locked in from start to finish. He also made it so I’m afraid of pretty girls sitting next to me on the bus…

…not that it was ever a problem before. Just sayin.’

'89' by Stuart Keane is a claustrophobic delight
’89’ by Stuart Keane is a claustrophobic delight
Is it good?
In less than 100 pages, '89' will provide a lifetime of fear of paranoia about who sits next to you on the bus.
Stuart Keane quickly establishes the main characters, making them feel intimately well-drawn in only a few pages.
The setting provides a claustrophobic pressure cooker that Keane ratchets up every page.
The narrative's two conclusions are both incredibly satisfying...
...and more than a little hard to believe.

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