It's a hot Summer evening and there's nothing to do but go to the drive in. Nothing you and your buds would rather do. The sun takes its sweet-ass time getting low and you have a few brews in anticipation of tonight's movie. You hear it's a good one; bloody and horrifying. You pull in, front row by God, and pull up that shitty speaker on a post. The stupid cartoon countdown that you love so much begins and you see one of your pals start to roll up a fatty.

The lights fade and the feature begins. The story deals with a young man coming home from college for the Summer. His old pal from the other side of the tracks is waiting and he anticipates a lazy summer of beer, girls (if they're lucky) and fun. They hang out here and there and you get to know the guys. And like them. They're normal enough. Good guys. Not much different from you and your own pals.

The guys drink a lot of beer, talk comics and girls and the future. And do some target practice. Shooting beer cans and acting tough, the way young men do. One day the boys go a bit further out in the sticks than normal and BAM!, they are in the wrong place at the worst time and the movie kicks into gear. It's about time; almost 20 minutes of running time was wasted on plot! It's no longer a warm, nostalgic story of coming of age, but one of blood, meat and insanity.

The boys hear screams of desperation and investigate. That was the worst mistake of their young lives. For they encounter a horror more gruesome than anything they ever imagined before.

You consider yourself a jaded horror fan. Heck, you've seen 'em all: Night and Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw, Pieces, Zombie, The Evil Dead, Re-Animator. But this one, The Summer I Died, is almost too much. You like horror and consider yourself a gorehound. Good lord, this one almost goes too far. Necrophilia. Burnt flesh. Castration. Human parts fed to animals. Torture. The ghastly scenes don't end, they only intensify as the feature goes on. Trying to cope with the carnage, you drink more than usual, but it seems to be having little effect tonight. Cars have been steadily leaving the theater. One guy threws up outside his car and then howls with laughter and cracks another brew.

Only The Summer I Died isn't a movie. God damn though, if it doesn't remind me of a down and dirty drive in splatfest, 70's style.

Ryan C. Thomas is a young writer and The Summer I Died is his first novel. And to be completely honest, it reads like a first novel. However, I compare it again to vintage horror movie debuts by George Romero, Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, Stuart Gordon and David Cronenberg. While their first feature films might have been a bit raw, they have a vitality and edge that their later, more polished works, might lack. An enthusiasm that all-too-often only comes with youth. I don't know how old Ryan Thomas is, but he is young to publishing and that shows in his writing. In a good way.

The Summer I Died is the kind of book for people that think Richard Laymon played a little too nicely with his readers. The kind that think Ed Lee hit his best stride with The Bighead and has wimped out since then. To say that it is a hardcore horror novel is an understatement. As I grow older, I also grow weary with a lot of so-called extreme horror fiction. It's all too easy for a writer to substitute character and story in favor of gory, over the top situations. I don't think that Ryan Thomas does that here. He hits hard...about as hard as anything I've ever read. But there is a humanity in the story that makes it something special. I stayed up way too late last night reading The Summer I Died, which is not necessarily the best idea when reading something this vicious. The story and the people kept my eyes glued to the pages. The care that Thomas put into his characters and the pain it felt to witness them going through unimaginable tortures.

In the end, I think The Summer I Died is a damned good book. Great? Well, maybe not, but damned good is saying a lot in this day and age. And Ryan C. Thomas is a writer to keep an eye on. I think he has the tools at his disposal to become one of the big ones. Probably he'll grow some restraint in his fiction as the years go on and that's a good thing. But it's a hell of a lot of fun to see this passionate young writer shooting with both barrels at the page right now. The Summer I Died is certainly not for every reader and some will undoubtedly be nauseated and repulsed by its excesses. But that's the point and those that like full blown gut wrenching splatter fiction will be rewarded by buying and reading this novel. Very highly recommended for those with strong constitutions.

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