Jack Kilborn hates when you’re comfortable. Every moment you sleep peacefully, he plans to make you pay for it. Kilborn’s first foray into horror was the fantastic “Afraid”, which took place in Safe Haven, Wisconsin. The novel unleashed a terror on the townspeople that had readers hearing, seeing and even smelling things that would never be the same once they finished the book. Readers were exposed to a constant unravelling of tension, suspense and finally gore as Kilborn slowly let them in on the secrets of the men in black suits, and how much (or how little) they control their operatives. (Read Kilborn’s interview shortly after the publication of “Afraid” HERE.)
Kilborn follows up his debut with a new twist. “Trapped” shifts from small town, middle America to the vacation destination named Rock Island. The story introduces the troubled couple, Sara and Martin Randhurst. Sara is a talented psychiatrist, and she and her husband founded the Second Chance Center, for the sole purpose of assisting at-risk teens who suffered from a variety of mental troubles. The Center has lost funding, and is going to be shut down, and with it, Sara and Martin’s marriage, despite the recent birth of their healthy, hearty son, Jack.
Sara and Martin are hosting a sort-of farewell trip for their most recent class of students. The class consists of eight total members attending the cruise and camping trip. The student roster includes gangbangers Meadow and Tyrone, sociopath Georgia, ADHD-suffering Tom, loyal Laneesha, and awkward, desperate Cindy. They arrive on the distant destination called Rock Island, and make their way across the island to their designated camp site.
Kilborn appropriately titles his first Act “Ghost Stories”. This introduction into the story concentrates on a ghost story told by Martin; the unbelievable tale of a Civil War era prison where the inmates were treated so poorly that they turned on one another, and then the Warden and his men, eventually resulting to cannibalism as a means to survival. Several of the kids cry bullshit on Martin’s story, and he seems to concede to their objections...just before he is grabbed and disappears into the woods.
At first, the student roster, and even his devoted Sara, assumes that Martin is pulling yet another trick. Once the screams start, and the group becomes divided, they realize that something...something terrible...is out there, just beyond their field of vision, laying wait in the darkness of the seemingly endless forest. The group becomes split through knee-jerk reactions, subterfuge, and anger. Alone, or in pairs, they’re far more vulnerable to the island’s mysterious inhabitants.
Kilborn has a signature style of pacing. For each character, he masterfully provides motive, perception and point-of-view, allowing the events to unravel in one person’s limited perspective, and then the reality. This provides readers with the experience of slowly unwrapping one present at a time, only to find how they all tie together.
Kilborn doesn’t provide the expected segmentation of a typical book. “Trapped” has no chapters. The author only provides a handful of aptly named breaks as the horror escalates. For instance, “Ghost Stories” gives way to “The Frying Pan”, which continues to the appropriately named “The Fire.”
Kilborn manages to work in two directions at once. As the human characters’ control on their lives unravels, the cycle of pain, gore, and unfathomable torment becomes much more acute. The comfort of everyday reality is hardly more than a dream as the counsellors and their students struggle to find some unbelievable strength within, or suffer horrors that tear at the very soul.
Thankfully, Kilborn doesn’t reserve his backstory process to the heroes, and as a result, readers are treated to the motives and dementia of the novel’s villains (and the book has some fantastically warped villains). This approach sets the tone for the ultimate chess match between victims, victors, and how that dynamic changes over the duration of the hunt. The best thing about “Trapped” is the slow reveal; a suspenseful story that hints and then shows, over and over again, while providing horrific scenarios that might make Clive Barker cringe.
Other recommended reading:
Definitely check out Kilborn’s first novel, “Afraid”.
For a more comedic spin, check out the eBook collaboration between Kilborn, Blake Crouch, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson, titled “Draculas.”
Kilborn and friends have a number of other collaborations available via his official site.