Here is one of the best insults in all of novels or movies:
In another time and another place, you could have been great. But you never get out of your own way. You have all these ideas brewing in there and no clue what to do with them. You lack the resolve, the confidence to do something special. You have original ideas, but you lack originality. You are completely predictable.
Somehow the ring of authenticity in that insult stings. Note to self: quick, quick, forget your own unfinished novels and get lost in this crazy fictional world that P.T. Hylton has created like some scary-very resort that tourists can go visit. Normally the word “horror” paired with “genre” keeps me from even reading the synopsis, but when John L. Monk added “Regulation 19” to his Awesome Indie list, I knew I had to visit the creepy little town of Rook Mountain myself. It was quite the vacation. Whenever life threatens to seem a little mundane, I treasure the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in exciting times.” Or interesting times. I know exactly what Jake means when he welcomes Will to Rook Mountain: “The great thing about this place is that nothing crazy ever happens. The downside is that nothing crazy ever happens.” When things do get crazy, it’s human nature to wish for our old, uneventful lives.
We first view the town from the top of Rook Mountain and its unique grassy balds–blunt rounded mountain tops covered with dense vegetation–baffling, because scientists couldn’t agree on the lack of trees. “Just another damn Rook Mountain mystery” to add to the list. While others migrated to cities like Chicago, Denver and Phoenix, the locals have treasured their quiet town since the days of Daniel Boone. But there were no huge, singing, people-eating birds in Boone’s day.
The story opens with Frank being offered a free pass out of jail if he can help locate his missing brother Jake. For the past nine years Frank had no news of anything outside the prison so he didn’t know his brother had been been charged with murder and gone missing for seven years. His liberators warn that everything is different, but it’s hard to get anyone in town to explain how or why. His brother’s wife has remarried, and Will tells him,
“March 27th, 2014, we went to bed and everything was normal. We woke up on the 28th and everything had changed.”
“Changed how?” Frank asked.
“People were dead. Lots of people.
Hylton does something amazing with this novel: he shifts back and forth in time, narrating from multiple points of view, and he makes it work. He takes us back to that landmark day when life changed. A naked man named Zed dropped into town from out of nowhere; then the nightmarish “Birdies” descended, and only Zed knew how to stop them. With the mesmerizing power of the Pied Piper, he secures the town’s safety. Just one catch: nobody can leave town. Step across the boundary line, and a Birdie will immediately come to eat you. Also, everyone must abide by Regulations meant to keep them all safe. Each little rule gradually robs the freedom of each resident, while fear of breaking the rules has them turning each other in or even punishing fellow locals with death. If it sounds crazy, read the novel. And some history books about these things happening in real life. Graves and prisons are filled with millions who opposed trivial, annoying little rules and petty tyrants.
But this is not a cautionary tale. It could be, but it’s also a thriller, mystery, nightmare, adventure, and great escapist fun. Just beware, squeamish readers among us, that plenty of the most real-life kind of horror is mixed in with the fun. During a sort of Boy Scout trek up the mountain, a citizen and leader enforces Regulation 18* by murdering someone who was trying to leave town. “A life had been taken out of the world in a wholly unnatural way. The laws of the universe, both the laws of nature and the laws of morality, had been broken….He saw looks of shock, horror, revulsion, and terror. There was even a look of awe from (one of the children). But they were all present behind their eyes. Whatever feelings they had about what had just happened, none of them were going to lose it. At least not now.” I love that line: they were present behind their eyes. Look at photos of Holocaust survivors, or anyone with PTSD, and the phrase makes sense.
“There was no shame in what we did here,” the executioner assures the boys. “We protected ourselves. We protected our families. We did our duty, no more and no less. Everyone understand?”
Those words have been spoken too many times throughout human history.
Hilton looks too young to master all the areas that usually give away a novice writer. His command of time shifting and multiple viewpoints is enviable enough, but he also shines at deep point of view, pacing, holding out on the reader instead of info-dumping too much information up front, riveting eocs (end of chapter) and pithy quotes. One of the greatest eocs I’ve ever seen is the simplest: The many eased himself out of the chair and ambled over to Frank. “Hey, nice to meet you, man. I’m –” (spoiler alert!)
Here are just a few more of the many great lines I highlighted while reading (consuming, gulping) this novel:
Time is a prison for your kind. It’s a river that carries you so fast that you cannot experience the sights on the passing banks.
Fear was like a weight, Christine thought. When there were multiple people in the house, you could spread the fear, lessening each person’s load. But if you lived alone you would have to keep all that fear for yourself.
Of all the things he loved about freedom, silence had to be near the top of the list. Prison was a loud place. He had almost forgotten what it was like to sit in silence with your own thoughts.
Steak. Beer. And to think, he’d been excited about the ice cream cone.
Line after line of this novel is engaging, memorable, and well written. Finding competent writers shouldn’t be so difficult, but as a critic who starts and casts aside a thousand books a year, I can assure you that Regulation 19 is a rare treat. Is it flawless? Of course not. Are there plot holes? Certainly. All books require willing suspension of disbelief. Some of the unexplained issues in this novel will likely make sense when we read the sequel. November 2014? Seriously, P.T., you’re making your fans wait that long?
*I never did figure out what the newest Regulation, 19 is, though John Monk thinks he knows. Also, I’m sure I’m wrong about which Regulation prohibits leaving town. I hunted for the number and realized it really doesn’t matter. Read the book.
P.T. Hylton is a writer, podcaster, and instructional designer. He lives in beautiful Eastern Tennessee with his wife and daughter. Check out his blog at http://www.pthylton.com.