Kind Nepenthe Is A Tale Of The Perverse - Book Review

With Halloween only two months away, you’re going to have to select your October reads soon! To help you select this year’s offerings of spooky reads, I volunteer as tribute to read as many horrors and thrillers as I can humanly stand. Let’s look at Kind Nepenthe by Matthew V. Brockmeyer.

Rebecca Hawthorne really didn’t want to come to Homicide Hill, but recent work troubles and an eager boyfriend, Calendula, made her accept drug dealer Coyote’s job offer to grow marijuana. Her daughter, Megan, comes with them to live off the land in Humboldt County, but Rebecca begins to worry as Megan starts to obsess over death and ghosts. I have to admit I picked this one up for two reasons: my husband is from Humboldt County, and I am also someone’s creepy, macabre daughter named Megan.

“Homicide Hill” is Brockmeyer’s version of Murder Mountain, a real spot in Humboldt County with a sordid history of drugs and murder. While “Murder Mountain” is a better name, it’s understandable that Brockmeyer would want to create his own mythology from scratch, especially since some of the real life murders there are very recent and unsolved. Some elements are there; the real Murder Mountain was once home to a pair of hippie serial killers, while Homicide Hill is the resting place of one long dead serial killer and his victims. It’s obvious what he is taking inspiration from, but does not feel exploitative at all.

Kind Nepenthe works best as a gripping drama with the conflict between dreams and the shitty reality at the center. Rebecca, Calendula, Coyote and Dan are not bad people, but they make terrible decisions one after another that leave them only shitty options. Some of Rebecca and Calendula’s troubles feel a bit contrived; after the first pay day, why doesn’t Rebecca rent an apartment in Eureka and take another job while Calendula stays to grow the weed? Why doesn’t Rebecca homeschool Megan at all? I felt the horror elements could have been cut altogether and more focus put on the very real problems that they all had. A great deal of thought is put into the logistics of growing and selling weed, but simple matters like Megan’s truancy gets shuffled away for unnecessary spookiness. Not much of the horror is actually scary and just feels like a diversion from the good parts. The little boy ghost feels cookie cutter, and let’s just say that any scene that involves a man getting eaten by a monstrous vagina isn’t scary, it’s hilarious. After that it was just hard to take any of the supernatural parts seriously.

This is Brockmeyer’s first novel, but he has published several short stories and has a creepy pasta following. I bring this up not to accuse him of being an amateur; his prose is fine, and the book is miles ahead of many horror novels I’ve read. I do think many of my gripes with this book comes from elements that would be fine in a short story, but do not necessarily work in a novel format. The supernatural scares feel unnecessary, and the ending just feels too sudden and an unsatisfactory way to leave characters that I’ve spent a whole novel getting attached to. In the end it feels like the characters were pushed off of Plot Cliff rather than brought to an organic ending that does them justice.

Kind Nepenthe by Matthew V. Brockmeyer was published by Black Rose Writing on July 27, 2017, and is available wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.