One of my favourite sub-genres in horror movies is slashers. A lot of that is due to the awesome visuals, such as the building of tension and dread using desolate settings, as well as the inevitable and much-anticipated kill scenes.

Even though I had heard great things about Kill River (2015) by Cameron Roubique, I was still reticent. How could a book evoke all the things I love most about this classic 80’s category?

The premise begins as many of its movie counterparts: at summer camp. We meet 13-year-old Cyndi, a music-loving shy girl who has been sent to camp to forcibly mingle with peers rather than hide under her crimped side ponytail and Walkman. Next, we are introduced to rich but lovely Stacy, handsome jock Brad and class-clown Zack. They become unlikely yet fast friends, and after having their spirits crushed one time too many by camp Counselor Sheehan, they decide to run away; or rather, row away down the river. Along the way, they make a most unusual discovery – a fully working yet abandoned water park.

Book Cover: Kill River by Cameron Roubique

What on earth could possibly go wrong?

As the cover blurb states: “Kill River is a wild, water park ride, filled with blood, gore and 80’s nostalgia.

Slasher fans rejoice, old-school horror is back,” and on these points, the book does not fail to deliver. Being a child of the 80’s myself, I particularly loved the nostalgia and all the references, from music to fashion to just the ambience. It was a different world; no technology, internet or social media to corrupt minds. We were able to do that all by ourselves.

Since the story revolves around a bunch of 13 and 14-year-olds, we get that sense of innocence and discovery. In between moments of perpetual dread, we experience the awkwardness of crushes, the all-time highs of first kisses, and the thrill of new friendships and how you would do anything for your buddies, even break out of camp and sail away into the unknown. There is a bond between these kids that is akin to all the best books about friendship. You may have no personal connection to the 80’s, yet we were all teens once and those emotions will come flooding back.

As I mentioned before, one of the things I was concerned about was just how those imperative visuals would be portrayed, as slasher films tend to rely more on the jump scares and kill scenes than clever dialogue. Would Roubique be able to transfer this to paper? Thankfully clever, detailed descriptions, sharp prose, and consistent discourse enabled this written work to hold its own and be just as chilling as its on-screen equivalents. I could even argue that Kill River is more unsettling as you alone are left to envision the eerie and dread-Inducing moments that are hand-delivered to us on camera.

The waterpark setting is clever too. If you have ever been in a theme park before the hordes arrive, it’s pretty odd. When somewhere that should be bustling with people is quiet, it holds a spooky atmosphere even with members of staff trolling about. Entering this kind of environment when it’s entirely vacant – no workers, no guests, no one –  would be off-putting and unsettling, to say the least. As we explore the park with the teens, the tension builds for us, the reader. And we are rewarded with some brutal kill scenes awash with gore. 

Roubique’s voice is fun and easy to follow. The story feels very natural, and the dialogue between the characters never appears contrived. They are teens, and they interact and behave like teens. It is also clear from the style of prose that Roubique is a huge fan of this sub-genre. There are plenty of cliches and slasher tropes, but because this is a nostalgia fest and it isn’t attempting a new spin or clever plot-twist, I actually welcomed them. I wanted those Friday the 13th vibes. I needed this to be The Goonies but with murders, and it was. I don’t think that Roubique wrote this to cash in on the popularity of that decade, or that he just happened to pen any old spooky story and set it in the ’80s. Kill River works so well exactly because it is mindfully and meticulously set then. 

This was the first of Roubique’s books I have read, but it certainly won’t be the last. Kill River 2 (2017) and Kill River 3 (2020) are sure to deliver the same sort of sequel chills that we expect from a slasher series, and he has a plethora of other books to his name. There is a reason why Cameron is revered by fellow authors and is great friends with other movie buffs such as Cameron Chaney and David Sodergren: he knows the vital components to make this work. And he has proved that with the excellent Kill River.

Janine Pipe

Janine Pipe

Author

Trading in a police badge and then classroom, Janine is a full-time Splatterpunk Award-nominated writer, whilst also being a mum, wife and Disney addict. Influenced by the works of King from a young age, she likes to shock readers with violence and scare them with monsters – both mythical and man-made. When she’s not killing people off, she likes to chew the fat with other authors – reviewing books and conducting interviews for her podcast and YouTube channel. You’ll likely find her devouring work by Glenn Rolfe, Hunter Shea and Tim Meyer. Her biggest fan, beta reader, editor and financier is her loving husband. He just wants her to write a story about werewolves that wear shoes on their hands …

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