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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Throwback Thursday – The Conqueror Worms by Brian Keene

note: Earlier this year I posted another old review from a Brian Keene book, Dead Sea. I’ve read a lot more of his stuff, but I think these are the only two that I actually reviewed for the old Gutmunchers site. I certainly need to revisit more of them as I’ve never been let down by his books.

This is a very interesting novel from a writer that seems to be cranking out some decent genre related fiction. The story centers around an elderly man named Teddy Garnett who lives in a small town in West Virginia. We quickly find out that one day it started to rain and never stopped. While everyone in his neck of the woods is already gone and most of the surrounding towns are under water Teddy and a few of his neighbors are still hanging on refusing to leave. After more than forty days of rain everything is soaked and there is strange mold growing on most of the remaining animals and trees.

As if this disaster of biblical proportions wasn’t bad enough the raised water levels have driven some rather large earthworms to the surface. We are talking house-sized earthworms that seem just a bit aggressive. Part way into the story Keene has a helicopter full of additional characters show up and immediately get shot down by one of Teddy’s less sane neighbors. This allows Keene to introduce another group of survivors from a city on the East Coast. He tells their story of sea monsters, Satanists, and their eventual escape from the hotel that had been their home just before everything came tumbling down on them. It allows him to broaden the scale of the story and add some fun background to the end of the world. The final act of the book is Teddy and his new friends trying to fight off the horrors that are coming up from beneath the ground under their feet.

I find myself going thru long stretches of time where I end up reading book after book form the same author. The Conqueror Worms is probably the third or fourth book I’ve read from Keene, and I have to say it is one of my favorites. I’m a big sucker for the end of the world survivor type of books where you are introduced to a cast of characters, only to have them picked off one at a time. But the key for this type of story is that you need to really care about the characters, or at least have some sort of vested interest in what happens to them. Keen does a great job with The Conqueror Worms in establishing the characters, giving each a unique background and personality. When they start to get picked off it means something to the reader. I also think the idea of breaking the story of Teddy in half and wrapping it around the other survivor’s story makes for a much more interesting book and helps with the pacing of the story. 

If I have one complaint about much of Keene’s work it is that he has this nasty tendency to end all his stories ending on depressing notes. Everyone is always either dead or doomed. Traditionally that is a fine way to end a horror movie, story, or novel, but it sucks when it becomes predictable. The Conqueror Worms hints at an ending like this but does leave the door open for a potentially happier ending. I appreciated that slim ray of hope for the characters.    

In the end I found this effort from Keene to be an entertaining and fun read. At just over three hundred and twenty five pages it is an easy read and well worth your time. I recommend tracking yourself down a copy of this one.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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