The Literary Six by Vince A. Liaguno

Rating: 8.5/10 ★★★★★★★★½☆ 
The Literary Six
Author: Vince A. Liaguno
Genre: Horror/Dark Fiction, GLBT Fiction
URL: Amazon
Price: US$24.95

Summary (from the publisher): For the faculty, students, and alumni of Bendleton University, The Literary Six was the scourge of its collective existence for four long years. Notorious across the campus for its snobby witticisms and scathing critiques of the university, its faculty, its students, and its founders, this elite group of college literati fashioned itself in the likeness of Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table – an irreverent group of playwrights, theatre critics, and novelists who regularly lunched at the historic Algonquin Hotel in the 1920s. Indeed, graduation day for the members of The Literary Six brought a sigh of relief for many on the receiving end of the group’s caustic pen. As members of The Literary Six disbanded after graduation and went on to pursue careers as successful novelists, journalists, publishers, editors, and academics, they made a pact to reunite and celebrate the glory days of their scandalous collegiate association. This year, the six members of the infamous literary club are making their way to Shelter Rock Island, to the home of fellow member and bestselling authoress Taylor Miller and her television producer husband for a New Year’s Eve weekend of rekindled friendships, reminiscing, and unrequited love. But this year’s annual reunion will be like no other; a face from their collective past will be joining them. And as the island is cut off from the mainland in a winter storm that blankets the New England coastline, the members of The Literary Six will face retribution for the sins committed through their literary transgressions at the hands of a malevolence none of them could have conjured in the deepest recesses of their creative minds. And as the snow falls in silence around them, The Literary Six will begin to fall one by one and a desperate struggle for survival will unfold.

My Review: I’m late to the party with this novel (released in 2006) and boy am I sorry it took me so long to stumble upon it. Take a slasher flick, mix in a dash of Agatha Christie and a pinch of Ghost Story while folding in really interesting, rich characters, and the result is a novel you can enjoy while curled up in bed on a cold winter night  or on a beach somewhere as you tan away your summer vacation.

From beginning to end this novel is fun, giving those of us raised on  80s slasher films a nostalgic feeling in our chests while adding a dimensionality one didn’t usually get in those same films.  In short, Liaguno (who would go on to win a coveted Stoker Award as co-editor of Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet) has given us something to love without having a reason to be embarrassed for loving it.

Liaguno clearly loves his slasher films and there is plenty of homage here, but what Liaguno does so well is expand upon that formula and the tropes within it.  Instead of brainless teens that we never really care about getting slaughtered left and right, he gives us adults, each of them haunted by their collective past as part of The Literary Six, as well as by ghosts of their own making since the Six went their separate ways.  There are secrets and sweaty liaisons and infidelities.  The result is a group of really interesting characters with fascinating back stories…and we know we’re going to see each of them get picked off…one by one…in very gruesome ways…in an abandoned hotel…on an isolated island…on New Year’s Eve.  What could be more fun?

But Liaguno doesn’t limit his homage to just slasher films.  There are references to various literary figures in the horror world as well, moments which are evocative of the long history of horror and dark fiction.  With a deft hand, Liaguno weaves all this together with a nice, sharp prose and an eye for detail.  When he describes the cold and the twists in the road leading to the hotel, you feel the nip of the wind and the snap of every twig as the ice slices through them.  There’s a wonderful cinematic feel to this novel and the result is an atmospheric piece with genuine creepy moments and many out and out heart-stoppers.

And what I also love is that there is a gay presence in this novel. Gay characters were pretty much absent in the films I grew up watching, and Liaguno rectifies that here, not only giving us a gay character (or two?), but writing interesting guys and a little steamy action here or there.  It’s nice to be represented in a genre you happen to love.  But what happens to the gay character? Does he live. Do they die?  Hmmmm….you’ll have to read to find out.

If I had one nit to pick, it would be those passages where the POV switches to that of the “crazed murderer” tended to interrupt the pace of the piece for me.  But this is a minor, minor gripe because these passages also added to that cinematic feel that makes me all warm and cozy.  In the end, what Liaguno delivers in this novel is exactly what is promised…a good time interrupted by indiscretions of youth…and a garden implement or two.