The Summer Job (January 7, 2014; Samhain), the latest novel from emerging author Adam Cesare, is the textbook definition of a nail-biter. Gone is the whimsical creature-feature nostalgia of his last novel, Video Night, as Cesare ups the ante with a slice of hillbilly horror that packs enough mounting dread to fill a backwoods kill-shack. And at a tight 234 pages, The Summer Job is a burner––one taste, and it’s gone before you know it.
After a harrowing prologue that truly sets the tone, Cesare introduces his punky protagonist Claire, an aimless waitress with a loser musician boyfriend. Her predictably hot/bitchy bestie convinces Claire to apply for a position at the old-school but luxurious Brant Hotel, located a couple of hours away in a remote town in New Hampshire. Fleeing her shitty waitress life, Claire immediately gets the job at the Brant, only to be sucked into the village’s web of increasingly lurid secrets.
Namely, there’s some sort of feud going on between Ms. Brant the grumpy hotel owner and a feisty cult of hillbilly hippies who party out in the nearby woods, and Claire is immediately drawn into the fray. Perpetually horny, poor Claire can’t help crushin’ on local beefcake Tobin, and once accepted into the hillbilly hippie inner-circle, Claire is pressured to spy on Ms. Brant and the hotel staff. Soon rumors of ritual sacrifice and possible Satanism begin to surface, the stories so shocking and grotesque, Claire doesn’t know what to believe. All she knows is that she’s caught in the middle.
With its secluded setting and penchant for ritualistic violence, The Summer Job is a kissing cousin to inbred classics from masters like Ketchum and Kilborn. Although the story is primarily plot-driven, Cesare has a knack for breezy, natural dialogue that rarely sounds forced, an attribute that keeps the pages turning. Some readers may take issue with Claire’s increasingly moronic character decisions, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the reader always knows more than Claire, which leads to a heightened sense of suspense as the action progresses. Toss in a handful of slick plot twists and an admirably bleak ending, and the result is Cesare’s best novel yet.