Title: The Briar
Author: Craig Wesley Wall
Release date: September 1st, 2021
I actually have a few of Craig’s books on my TBR, but have yet to get to them. When ‘The Briar’ was announced, the synopsis sounded right up my alley and I clicked that pre-order button super fast. I was hoping to have read it near release date, but as sometimes happens, and with the toppling scope of my ever-growing TBR, I just got to it now.
I was really intrigued to see what Craig crafted here with this PNW-Folklore style story, as I spent over a decade of my life living just north of the area where Craig lives and where this is set.
What I liked: A decade ago, Eli was swept away in the night by his mother, his father yelling at them to go. Now, all these years later, he learns that his father has died and the house has been left to him. Begrudgingly, Eli heads back, travelling from Portland to the remote small town in northern Washington to clean it up and sell it as fast as he can.
Now, don’t get me wrong – this is a setup/trope frequently used and I could see why maybe some people might be on the fence about diving into that narrative once again – but rest assured, that is the only part of that trope that Craig uses.
When Eli arrives, he sees the town has dried up, the once fertile farmlands barren and instead vines, blackberry vines are everywhere. The small town that Craig creates was fantastic and eerily familiar. Where I lived, in Abbotsford, BC, we would often order products to be picked up just across the Canada/US border in the very small village of Sumas, in Whatcom County. They had everything Craig described here; boarded up hotels, saloons and restaurants. When we still lived in that area, there were a number of restaurants and gas stations that still flourished, what with it being right at the border crossing, but I’ve heard due to Covid, some of that has faded away.
Craig also does a fantastic job of creating some really creepy characters. People you know instantly are not what they seem and when we learn the ‘true reason’ for Eli returning, it’ll make your blood run cold.
When the feces hits the fan at about the 75% mark and we get to see, not only the creature that has been set up, but the action that occurs around it, Wesley Wall goes full tilt and the carnage and devastation was truly phenomenal.
What I didn’t like: There’s a reason for it, but there’s an offshoot side story about Eli and his significant other. She has news but can’t share what it is until he returns (which every single person will guess what it is immediately) and this is used later on. Like I mentioned, there is a reason for it, but I’d have almost preferred it to not have even been mentioned earlier.
Why you should buy this: Folklore, when done well, is for me at least, quite possibly the most frightening subgenre of the horror world, knowing that people will do whatever it takes to offer sacrifice to their God or whatever it is they’re worshipping. Wesley Wall offers up ‘The Briar’ into that world and he knocks it out of the park. For fans of Adam Nevill’s folklore fiction, you’ll absolutely eat this one up and with it being a novella, with all of the fat cut from the bones, this is a lean, mean story that hums along at a million-miles-an-hour. Kudos to Craig for forcing me to stay awake two nights in a row so that I could finish this one, as I desperately wanted to see how it played out.