[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
Well, that was quite a twisted ride here. A sort of “making of a serial killer”, seen through the eyes of the killer's mother, Ella, as she reminisces about the past after her son's death, while stranger and stranger events start happening around her.
Dane Peters, a serial killer known as the Rest Stop Dentist (after his places of killing and his “collection” of teeth from his victims), is gone, sentenced to death and executed. It's time for his mother, who followed the trial for months, to go back home, where she finds shelter in religion, the only thing she has left—and even that is less than certain, for Dane's reputation as well as an article by journalist Sven Gödel have tainted her, made her into “the killer's mother”, and he own church may not want her anymore. So Ella tries to go on as she can, but her enemies are many, tagging her house at night and leaving accusatory articles in her mailbox, while her friends, like Talia, are few.
Enters Dane, his presence brought back through a DVD he left in Sven's care, a video containing a last message for the person he loved most. His mother? Well... This is when Hell on Earth breaks for Ella and Sven, haunted more and more by Dane. A real ghost? A common hallucination? A hallucination that can hurt and kill, for sure. Threatened and manipulated, the mother and the journalist have no choice but to go on a sick quest of Dane's making. But did Dane turn evil just because it was in his nature, or did someone made him into a killer?
For me, the supernatural and horror aspects were intriguing, but what interested me even more was the abuse running rampant in Dane's family. While I would definitely disagree with anyone affirming that being abused as a child turns people evil, the fact is, abuse in any form is very, very likely to leave children (and their future adult selves) scarred, in one way or another. This novel is perhaps more a study of abuse than a ghost/horror story: a study in how a father perpetuates on his son what was done to him, on how a scared mother may choose to turn a blind eye on said abuse, thus becoming complicit in the daily torture, on how love can get horribly warped, on crappy justifications to horrible actions...
As a result, the main characters felt unpleasant yet also sympathetic, a dichotomy that isn't so easy to achieve. Unpleasant because of their flaws, their tendency to justify them, their voluntary blindness to ugly truths, their hypocrisy, too (Ellaconsidering herself a good Christian, while letting the abuse go on). Sympathetic, because, all in all, Ella and Dane were victims first and foremost (to use the same example, Ella found refuge in her beliefs precisely because facing the truth alone was too hard and she was too scared).
And, to be honest, the teeth motif particularly struck me: losing teeth is one of my deep fears, and in general, anyway, imagining people having their teeth ripped out of their mouths is... just frightening. It hurts terribly, it touches you directly in your face, so close to the seat of your thoughts, it disfigures you, and it's such a horrible way to bleed to death, too...
Nice touch at the very end, too, but I'm certainly not going to spoil anything.