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Being in detention sucks, and I speak as someone who only ever had to be detained once, way back when. That was for throwing a ham sandwich at someone on the bus. Slightly more serious are the events of The Detained by Kristopher Triana, in which a group of old schoolmates and one gym coach meet one evening in their old school. The coach thinks he’s there to pick up a lifetime achievement award; the others think it’s a reunion. Suffice to say they’re all wrong, which is where the horror begins.
It’s easy to think of this as a murderous Breakfast Club, but there are other forces at play here, not just a few people getting miffed and jamming out to Wang Chung. Like the Breakfast Club though, each of the four main players have secrets to reveal. Our main character is Phoebe, a neurotic who doesn’t want to come back to her old town, but also believes in the power of healing through confrontation.
We also have Tyler, ex-rocker turned published author, who struggles to keep his feelings in check, Sandy the bitchy ex-cheerleader who longs for those glory days, and Champ, the meathead jock who is basically still a meathead jock. Add to that Coach Dixon, an old God-fearing curmudgeon who wants to impose order, and you have a decent melting pot of conflicting characters ready to simmer as the secrets begin to come out, bringing everyone’s sanity right to the boil.
Now you may be thinking, the nerd, the shy girl, the jock and the cheerleader. What’s to be said that you haven’t already heard? Well, most importantly, these are those same stereotypes all grown up, which means they don’t all play on your normal expectations. You get glimpses back at their school days, but that’s mostly through each person’s recollections and discussions after the shit hits the proverbial. No flashbacks here, there’s not time, as the forces behind the scenes keep piling on the pressure.
Even though the force driving them together is supernatural in nature, the main action and terror here comes from the clash of personalities. Even if you made the mysterious host mortal, this would still be a hugely effective story, as the 5 unfortunates are given just enough rope to hang themselves with, and we’re left to watch as things break down. Weapons are gathered, people are restrained, and fingers are pointed. As the group remember their past relationships, they forget their humanity, losing trust in each other and splintering faster than a plank in a dojo.
There’s a lot of build-up before this, with each character’s introduction perfectly signposting their motivations, which pays off very nicely at the end. I can’t say enough good things about this setup – it would have been far easier to throw in a bunch of spooky doings and have the characters run from room to room, fleeing from some vengeful spirit. Their host is far crueller, giving them subtle nudges in the right direction, puppeteering the whole bloody mess from afar. Watching everyone at each other’s throats is at first entertaining, then quickly becomes horrific, as pretty much everyone loses it. The later parts of the story bring in some memorable imagery, as the locked school itself becomes just as sinister as the people inside, but it’s the character work that lingers most in the mind.
If you’re still thinking about a book days after you’ve read it, I’d say that’s a book well worth buying. Grab a copy for yourself by clicking here, and thanks of course to PMMP for the pre-release copy.