Jack Kilborn is a pseudonym for J. A. Konrath: he publishes under both names, using Konrath for his thrillers, and reserving Kilborn for his horror novels. Safe Haven is a small, quiet town in Wisconsin, with only one road leading in and out of it, many miles from civilisation. But something horrifying is about to disturb this peaceful, secluded town. In the dead of night, a helicopter crashes on the outskirts of Safe Haven, unleashing a terrifying government weapon upon the quiet town: Red-Ops - merciless super soldiers who are programmed to terrorise and annihilate.
Afraid is non-stop action, violence and gore from the off. The pace is fast; there aren’t any boring parts, and barely any breaks in action. However, because it starts with such a bang, there is little progression and the latter half fails to live up to the opening; my enthusiasm therefore fizzled out a little by the mid-point.
Before reading Afraid, I had heard that it was really scary, but it can be much better described as ‘gory horror’ than ‘scary horror’. The violence is unrelenting and visceral, so it’s great if you fancy an intense and gruesome read. If you want to feel really scared, then not so much. Nonetheless the very idea of the Red-Ops is quite terrifying - they are inhuman, huge and incredibly strong; some of the things they do to the poor residents of Safe Haven are vile and gut-wrenching.
Afraid is very well written; Kilborn’s style is easy to engage with and his characters are realistic. The story is character focused: at the start we follow a number of people who are scattered around Safe Haven as they are forced to confront the Red-Ops. Many die, but the few who survive strive to escape their town and get to the bottom of the helicopter crash as the horrific possibility that its landing was not in fact accidental begins to seem probable. Nonetheless there is a boring and contrived love plot between two characters which I felt was an unnecessary dynamic and somewhat dampened the atmosphere.
In conclusion, Afraid is a well written horror novel with some good characters and an interesting plot. It is fast paced, energetic and offers unrelenting brutality, which means this novel, although it is 372 pages, can easily be read in only one or two sittings. I enjoyed Afraid, but for me something was lacking and it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. All in all, Afraid is ideal if you want a gripping, fast read filled with violence and blood.