Right from the start, before anything else, I want to say that I loved Brian Keene's Ghoul. It takes the place of Terminal as my favorite of his books.

Yet some are complaining about it. Too much focus on the youthful protagonists and not enough ghoulish behavior. I guess they want Brian to re-write The Rising over and over again. Me, I'm pleased and grateful that Mr. Keene is expanding his literary horizons and taking more time with characterization in his novels.

Confession time: When I was a kid, my dearest fantasy was to be a monster hunter. Like Van Helsing or Carl Kolchack or maybe Solomon Kane. More like Kolchack though...a modern-day monster slayer. Oh, I wasn't so pathetic that I actually believed in monsters, but in my dreams I would stalk and defeat them. Which makes Ghoul a perfect book for me.

In the event that you're a horror reader that has been living under a rock, Brian Keene's Ghoul is a nostalgic coming-of-age story in which three early 1980's era best pals come to grips with the horrors of life. Maybe I was wrong before, because monsters do indeed exist. It's just that most of them are in human form. Yes, there is a corpse-devouring fiend in Ghoul, but I felt that he paled in comparison to the other monsters in its pages.

As the novel begins, it's the beginning of Summer and three kids anticipate the best vacation ever. Timmy is the undisputed leader; a lover of comics and movies. Barry is tougher, but lives in the awful shadow of his alcoholic, abusive father. Doug is the obligatory fat kid, who suffers a different form of abuse at that is more sinister than any physical beating could ever be. Their idyllic Summer is shattered by a series of disappearances and murders. Occurrences which lead to only one explanation, however impossible that may be to believe. A ghoulish being is residing under the graveyard, consuming the flesh of the dead and taking the living for its malignant designs.

Of course, the kids figure out what is going on and are not believed and they must face the demonic entity on their own. Yet I'm not condemning Keene for lack of originality...Ghoul is a homage to the great horror books and movies of the period and I'm sure that the cliches in it are quite intentional.

An epilogue follows the novel, which I thought contained the most powerful writing of Ghoul. Brian is known for his unhappy endings, but Ghoul is marginally more positive than we've come to expect from him. Yet he refuses to give a completely joyous finish to this novel. Its lack of sentimentality is refreshing, if also a bit disquieting.

I've followed Brian Keene's career quite closely for years now. He showed his swagger on message boards and at conventions and would have really looked the fool had he not backed it up with solid writing in his books. His debut, The Rising, satisfied most readers and it lived up to the hype surrounding him. It might still be his most popular novel, but I think Brian has grown with each new publication, trying to not repeat himself and largely succeeding at it. He has taken chances with his career and not simply given the fans what they scream for. But the zombie fans will hopefully be assuaged by his next Leisure title: Dead Sea.

For the time being, Ghoul is a gorgeous book; one that I didn't want to end. I already miss my friends, Timmy, Barry and Doug, and I want to hang out in the clubhouse with them again.

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