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The locals attribute their unusually high murder rate to the Torment, a curse that began with a massacre on Somers Mountain over a hundred years ago. Not a fan of ghost stories, Lacey seeks out rational explanations for each case that crosses her desk—until the day a meth-addicted troublemaker shows up, begging her deputies to protect him from his nine-year-old son. The incident sets off a chain of increasingly bizarre events. While Lacey confronts the possibility that an unthinkable evil has resurfaced, Deputy Jared Strickler searches for clues that may lead back to an unresolved episode that left him with scars on his leg and a hole in his memory. The answers they seek come from an unexpected source. But will they be enough to keep the Torment from pursuing another innocent victim?
Riveting and unsettling, when you turn the first page of The Torment you do so with the normal expectations of the genre. Of having your attention diverted, perhaps even being gripped and frightened, but as with previous releases from Hains, he proves highly adept at undermining his readers in powerful and inchoate ways. In his previous release, Sweet Aswang it only took a few pages for the darkness to emerge and the sense of the uncanny to pervade and it is no different here. There is genuine fear in this nightmarish tableaux but equally as important Hains wholly manages to sidestep the dreaded trap of allegory to deliver a novella which is artfully plotted whilst cleverly wrong-footing his protagonist and readers which is always the mark of a good occult read.
On a superficial level the power of The Torment comes from our continuing fascination with the supernatural but as a professor emeritus of counselling psychology, Hains communicates a deeper understanding of our own undeniable nature and Horror Fiction doesn’t get much closer to the bone than this.
An entertaining and intelligent read that takes its subject seriously without resorting to gratuitous tropes. The Torment is certainly as strong as previous releases from Hains and proves a fine example of occult horror in short form. It is recommended without reservation.
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Anthony Hains is a professor emeritus of counseling psychology with a specialization in pediatric psychology. He retired in May 2018 after 31 years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Anthony lives with his wife in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. They have one daughter.