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The key to horror fiction is repulsive gore, which local author Bill Schweigart’s new novel, Northwoods, wades right into. From corpses flayed to the bone in the forest to a police officer who gets eaten in bed, this tale tosses every gruesome horror trick imaginable at the reader. One character observes of his attackers, “Some were naked, their faces, necks and chests streaked with gore, shocks of red on the vast plain of ice.” The grisly details start early on and never let up. Neither does the action.
Set in Minnesota, Northwoods is the sequel to The Beast of Barcroft, another horror saga that features a monster stalking the residents of Arlington, a hero who just kicked antidepressants, a queer heroine, and a host of minor characters served up as monster chow. Like Northwoods, it’s the stuff of unadulterated horror fiction. Unlike its predecessor, The Beast of Barcroft focuses on only one monster. The sequel sets its sights much higher.
It succeeds, but not completely. For a while, Schweigart puts the Ojibwe, a Native American tribe, in focus, suggesting that the plot might cover not just tribal lore but tribal customs. But the novel barely skims the surface of Native American beliefs, and doesn’t link them to the deadly creatures that have slouched out of the woods.
Instead, Schweigart puts most of the attention on U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Davis Holland, who’s tasked with investigating some Canadian border crossings that quickly turn bloody. Ben McKelvie, hero of The Beast of Barcroft, shows up, and events spiral out of control. It seems the border town has been invaded by monsters of the kind straight out of the TV series Supernatural. The similarities go beyond gruesomeness and splatters of blood: There’s also lots of weaponry (the hero is a federal agent, so he has access to the latest, most terrifying armament) and plenty of casualties. It’s best not to grow too attached to minor characters, because before you know it, they’ve had their entrails eaten by ghouls. While there’s not much room for nuance or thematic development, there is action and one shocking slaughter after another.
Like The Beast of Barcroft, Northwoods doesn’t reveal where these supernatural horrors come from. It’s not enough to have one character quote Oliver Wendell Holmes saying that “Once the mind has been stretched by a new idea, it will never again return to its original size.” That explains how the heroes come to believe they’re battling the forces of evil but not how those forces got here.
Schweigart still has time to answer this question, as this series will clearly continue. Fans of McElvie and Lindsay Clark will likely have the opportunity to see them again. The new guy, Holland, is an even more interesting character, as is his partner, Alex Standingcould. And like Supernatural, this monster series could run for a long time.