Disclaimer: The author of this work, Nikki DeKeuster, is one of my colleagues and friends. I was a beta reader for her connected novelette Red String. I was not solicited to review her debut novel.
The finest compliment I can give to a work of fiction is my time. I bull-rushed through the back half of The Spiral in a single six-hour sitting. In my experience, that says a lot of good about a novel.
DeKeuster’s first novel opens with a disclaimer against graphic violence, graphic sex, graphic design, and graphic use of ellipses. It follows through on all four, generally with strong effect. As someone no longer particularly familiar with the supernatural or horror genres, the book felt most similar to the works of Stephen King. Written in bite-size chapters, the work’s thriller-style pacing makes it an addictive and satisfying read.
The story is about Amy Durene, a teenage girl who slowly loses her mind while coming to grips with both adolescent pains and her empathic abilities. Not quite mind-reading, Amy’s empathy allows the emotions of others to impact her mental and emotional state. Discovering what Amy can, and cannot, do with her empathic abilities—and their consequences—is a major portion of the novel.
What makes this story horror—as opposed to paranormal romance—are those consequences. DeKeuster’s careful attention and effort in writing this book shone through brightly when Amy was at her darkest. As her psyche begins to unravel, it’s clear that Amy’s empathy isn’t a superpower.
It’s a nightmare.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who reads horror, especially if they also like a side of romance. The Spiral is definitely a horror story, but the romance elements form an important part of the story. It does flirt with the “sex scene or erotica?” line, which may make some readers uncomfortable due to the ages of the characters. However, anyone who enjoys someone like Stephen King should be on familiar territory with DeKeuster’s work.