Release Date: August 30, 2016
Review copy provided as part of The Jersey Devil Blog Tour
It’s no secret that Hunter Shea is one of my favorite horror writers working today. I have raved about all of his books and I think part of what draws me to them is the fact that Hunter is also a huge fan of the genre. He is a lover of all things horror and has a fascination with cryptids that rivals my own. Every time I read one of his books – whether they be about cryptids, ghosts, or anything else really – I am reminded of why I love horror and I get the same feeling of excitement I got when I first started getting into horror and the weird world of the unexplained. This time around Shea tackles a cryptid that is near and dear to my heart, The Jersey Devil. I didn’t live in New Jersey, but growing up I lived close enough that The Jersey Devil legend was one of the first I discovered right after the big two – Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
The short version of the legend basically goes that a Pine Barrens resident named Momma Leeds gave birth to 12 children and when she was found out she was pregnant for the 13th time, cursed the child and said it would be the Devil. When the child was born, it transformed into a bizarre creature that varies in appearance depending on who you hear the story from. The Jersey Devil is a well-known folklore story that has ingrained itself in the fabric of the state and community that spawned it and was one that always fascinated me.
The Jersey Devil starts off with a bang as readers are introduced to Jane Moreland, a women whose husband has just died and she is frantically trying to get rid of the body. Her husband Henry was abusive and after putting up with years of torment and fantasizing about all of the ways she could kill him and be free of him for good. That’s all they were though were fantasies, so she was beyond shocked when a drunken accident and Henry’s own temper proved to be his demise. Unable to call the cops – all of whom were friends with Henry – her only choice is to try and dispose of his body in the Pine Barrens. Worrying about how she will be able to deal with the aftermath of Henry’s accident, she hears a blood-curdling screech rip through the Barrens. Something is growling, stalking her in the inky darkness of the night. Whatever it is swoops down and carries the 200 lb Henry off into the trees. Jane barely escapes with her life after partially burying herself. Moments from freedom, Jane realizes there really was something horrible hiding in the Barrens.
Sam Willet – known to his family as Boompa – is 80-years-old and tough as nails. Despite his age, he is a formidably imposing figure and has the strength and stamina of a man half his age. He lost his wife tragically ten years ago and her death fueled his vendetta against the creature known as The Jersey Devil. Boompa has been chasing the elusive beast for years, but he knows that with every passing year, his time is running out. The monster has plagued the Willet family for 3 generations, though it has kept a low profile for decades. However, there have been a massive increase in sightings and disappearances that cause the family to get excited. After years of training and an all consuming desire for revenge, The Willet family team up with cryptozoologist Norm Cranston and march into the desolate Pine Barrens armed to the teeth in search of a monster that defies the laws of nature.
Shea does an excellent job juggling a large cast of characters by giving them all very distinct personalities and back stories. Boompa is hands down one of my favorite of the Willet clan. While Boompa is old enough to be considered by many as elderly, he is still an imposing figure who is bursting with vitality and a determination that is almost infectious. After suffering numerous tragedies and coming face to face with something that defies all logic, he is chomping at the bit to confront an evil that would send most normal people running for the hills. While Boompa is tough as nails, there are some great interactions with his grandson Daryl early in the novel that are indicative of his sense of humor and shows how close he is with his family.
Norm Cranston is another key figure in The Jersey Devil. He’s 42-years-old and a world famous cryptozoologist, who just got back from tracking a Bigfoot-esque beast in Ohio known as the Grassman. Despite gaining a level of notoriety and popularity from being featured on countless cable shows, he lives modestly and alone with his cat Salem. He has been friends with Sam Willet for years after a chance encounter after filming an episode about big cats in New York and is aware of his story involving the Jersey Devil. After stumbling across two sightings in as many weeks, Norm knows he has to get in touch with Sam as there is something brewing in the Pine Barrens that could be huge for both of them.
Shea does a great job portraying Norm’s introduction into the field after his dad shared his own personal account of a Bigfoot encounter while he went hunting. This caused a young Norm to dive headfirst into the world of cryptids, reading every book he could get his hands on from the library. I absolutely loved Norm’s character because it kind of reminds me of myself. Growing up I had the same sort of wonder over cryptids and would read every book that I could find from my local library. That sense of wonder and fascination of the unknown that Norm displays in the novel is the same I felt growing up, so I was instantly drawn to his character.
The way Shea portrays the locals talking about the Jersey Devil in the novel is realistic and kind of representative of communities that have their own unique legends. When two minor characters who are looking to cash in on the legend to run camping tours ask locals for some key spots pertaining to the legend, they get the sense that everyone buys in to the legend. Some even go as far as begging them to stop searching for the hideous creature that calls the Pine Barrens its home. While not everyone may actually believe there is an evil creature hiding out in the Pine Barrens, it is important to note that many people take pride in local tradition. Even if they don’t believe it’s true, a part of them likes to keep the story alive.
One of the things that helps bring this novel to life is Shea’s excellent description of the Pine Barrens. I have never seen them myself, but Shea makes them come to life and gives them an eerie, unsettling power that helps fuel the tension of the novel and amplify the terror of the creature that could be lurking in the dense trees. Sparsely populated, dark and vast, they are the perfect setting for something to hide and for people to leave bodies. Shea even dedicates a short chapter to making the Barrens seem alive, vines and vegetation growing rapidly to hide the vehicles of some poor victims that fell prey to the mythical beast that calls the Barrens home.
I love the way Shea handles the big reveal of the Jersey Devil in his book. He doesn’t let readers get a real good look at the creature early in the book, but instead utilizes small fleeting moments that build up the anticipation and make the big reveal that much of a better pay off. It starts with sounds – growls, shrieks, and flapping of wings – then slowly builds as the attacks escalate due to the Jersey Devil getting more brazen. What started off as a few hit and run style attacks become more frequent and the Jersey Devil starts allowing itself to be seen, which is a drastic change from its original behavior, along with its taste for blood.
I love that Hunter sticks with the traditional look of this famous cryptid. The Jersey Devil is portrayed as being about the size of a grown man with an appearance that looks like a hybrid of a horse and goat with a whip-like tail and large leathery wings. Honestly, if you were to look up a sketch of what The Jersey Devil looks like based on eyewitness testimony, you would be tempted to laugh. Hell, I almost did the first time I did. The Jersey Devil is a creature with larger than life name and reputation that brings to mind some kind of hulking beast, but the reality is, it looks almost cartoonish. However, there is nothing funny about Shea’s Jersey Devil. While it borrows from the traditional look, Shea manages to warp this creature into something truly frightening and capable of unimaginable chaos and carnage. It also isn’t just some mindless monster, it possesses an intelligence that far surpasses anything they thought it was capable.
What makes The Jersey Devil such a great novel is the care Shea shows in the research behind the legend. Well, that and tons of gruesome, frightening scenes that are guaranteed to keep your adrenaline pumping for almost the entire novel. While Shea has shown quite a bit of range in his writing and has tackled numerous different subjects, I have always thought he was at his best when tackling cryptids. He has already tackled The Montauk Monster, skunk apes, and The Dover Demon just to name a few. Just like with all of those books, they would be fantastic reads for lovers of the bizarre and unknown, but Shea always adds his own touches that make the story that much better. I don’t want to get too much into how Shea differentiates his version of the Jersey Devil mythos because I feel that would ruin a portion of the story, but he manages to take the traditional legend and amplify it to terrifying heights.
This was one of my most anticipated books of last year and it ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year as well. Shea is an excellent storyteller who manages to draw readers in almost instantly and never let go throughout the entire journey. Every time I pick up one of Hunter Shea’s works , I know I am in for a wild thrill-ride. I have read just about everything Hunter has released and one thing I can say is that I am never bored. He knows how to keep readers wanting more and has mastered the art of pacing and The Jersey Devil is no exception. There is plenty of action, bone-chilling scenes and horrific beasts throughout. If you are a fan of cryptids or prefer monsters with your horror, you can’t go wrong with this one!
If you are a Hunter fan, stay tuned in the coming weeks as I will have reviews coming for Loch Ness Revenge and We Are Always Watching! I have a ton of other reviews in the works as well and then I look forward to tackling Shea’s latest Savage Jungle.
The Jersey Devil Synopsis
THE LEGEND LIVES
Everyone knows the legend of the Jersey Devil. Some believe it is an abomination of nature, a hybrid winged beast from hell that stalks the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey searching for prey. Others believe it is a hoax, a campfire story designed to scare children. But one man knows the truth…
THE DEVIL AWAKES
Sixty years ago, Boompa Willet came face to face with the Devil—and lived to tell the tale. Now, the creature’s stomping grounds are alive once again with strange sightings, disappearances, and worse. After all these years, Boompa must return to the Barrens, not to prove the legend is real but to wipe it off the face of the earth…
THE BEAST MUST DIE
It’ll take more than just courage to defeat the Devil. It will take four generations of the Willet clan, a lifetime of survivalist training, and all the firepower they can carry. But timing is critical. A summer music festival has attracted crowds of teenagers. The woods are filled with tender young prey. But this time, the Devil is not alone. The evil has grown into an unholy horde of mutant monstrosities. And hell has come home to New Jersey…
Praise for Hunter Shea
“Shea delivers a tense and intriguing work of escalating tension splattered with a clever, extensive cast of bystanders turned victims…An otherwise excellent, tightly delivered plot…Fans of cryptid creatures are likely to revel in this love letter to a legendary menace.”– Publishers Weekly
“Bloody good read! This guy knows his monsters!”- Eric S Brown, author of Bigfoot War and Boggy Creek: The Legend is True, on Swamp Monster Massacre
“Hunter Shea is a great writer, highly entertaining, and definitely in the upper echelon in the current horror scene. Many other writers mention either loving his work and/or having the man influence their own, and for just cause. His writing suits anyone with a taste for the dark and terrifying!” –Zakk at The Eyes of Madness/The Mouth of Madness Podcast
About Hunter Shea
Hunter Shea is the product of a childhood weaned on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone and In Search Of. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself.
Publishers Weekly named The Montauk Monster one of the best reads of the summer in 2014, and his follow up novel, Hell Hole, was named best horror novel of the year on several prestigious horror sites. Cemetery Dance had this to say about his apocalyptic thriller, Tortures of the Damned – “A terrifying read that left me wanting more. I absolutely devoured this book!”
Hunter is an amateur cryptozoologist, having written wild, fictional tales about Bigfoot, The Montauk Monster, The Dover Demon and many new creatures to come. Copies of his books, The Montauk Monster and The Dover Demon, are currently on display in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME.
He wrote his first novel with the express desire to work only with editor Don D’Auria at Dorchester (Leisure Horror). He submitted his novel to Don and only Don, unagented, placed on the slush pile. He is proof that dedicated writers can be rescued from no man’s land. He now works with Don, along with several other agents and publishers, having published over ten books in just four years.
Hunter is proud to be be one half of the Monster Men video podcast, along with his partner in crime, Jack Campisi. It is one of the most watched horror video podcasts in the world. Monster Men is a light-hearted approach to dark subjects. Hunter and Jack explore real life hauntings, monsters, movies, books and everything under the horror sun. They often interview authors, crytid and ghost hunters, directors and anyone else living in the horror lane.
Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to get Gray’s Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits. His daughters have also gotten the horror bug, assisting him with research, story ideas and illustrations that can be seen in magazines such as Dark Dossier.
You can follow his travails at http://www.huntershea.com, sign-up for his newsletter, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.