I've been a James Newman reader for a long time. I count books like Midnight Rain, The Wicked, and Odd Man Out as personal favorites.

In The Scrape is my first exposure to the work of Mark Steensland. He previously collaborated with Newman in The Special, which I haven't gotten around to yet.

In The Scrape has a lot going for it. The authors establish two central characters straight off, and they are well-drawn. The writing is crisp and clear. All great stuff.

Two boys are planning to escape from their abusive father. They hope to cross the country to find their mother, who left them. I like the way the father character is suitably intimidating, but Newman and Steensland are wise enough to give a couple of almost tender moments with him. He isn't a cardboard cutout stereotype.

An albino deer is introduced into the story, but I felt that it was an unnecessary contrivance that went nowhere.

The novella was once one of the most neglected literary forms, but I feel think many writers use it right now. There are perfect novellas, like Pork Pie Hat, by Peter Straub, or The Mist, by Stephen King. Usually, though, I end up wishing for more detail. For instance, I would have liked to know more about the absent mother character in In The Scrape. At least a flashback scene or two to shed light on her relationship with the boys. I'm not suggesting that In The Scrape ought to be a five-hundred page epic, but I would have been happier if the story were double its length. Most horror readers love the short form these days, so it was probably a smart move to keep it around a hundred pages.

A couple of minor quibbles, but In The Scrape is a good deal for under ten bucks. I doubt you will be disappointed.

Written by Mark Sieber

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