MASS HYSTERIA BY MICHAEL PATRICK HICKS [REVIEW]

Welcome to Rick’s Read-Along. A new series presented by Horror Oasis where I visit an author’s back catalogue and encourage you, the reader, to read along with me.  I will publish my thoughts on each book every two weeks, while also announcing the next book I’ll be reading. Every author selected will be someone whose back catalogue is readily available and is somebody we feel our readers will enjoy discovering along with us. I hope that you’ll all join me in sharing your thoughts.

In this latest instalment, I have selected four horror books from the back catalogue of prolific genre author, Michael Patrick Hicks. Michael has written extensively in the horror and sci-fi genres, most notably the Salem Hawley series (including ‘The Resurrectionists’ and ‘Borne of the Deep’) and his latest horror novel, ‘Friday Night Massacre’, a grindhouse inspired splatterpunk action novel which features the President of the United States making a deal with the devil, with disastrous consequences. Michael was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Finalist for Science Fiction in 2013 for his debut novel, ‘Convergence’ and also co-hosts the horror-centric podcast ‘Staring Into The Abyss’.

A warning for readers who are joining in with the read-along, some of the books selected (specifically ‘Mass Hysteria’ and ‘Friday Night Massacre’) contain scenes of extreme horror, some of which is sexual in nature. I would urge anyone who may be triggered by such content to take this into consideration before picking up these books. 

As these articles are intended to encourage people to read these books along with me there will obviously be spoilers ahead, although I will strive to keep them minor and avoid spoiling major reveals or twists along the way for those who haven’t read it yet.

As an author who started his career in science fiction (‘Convergence’) the opening scene of ‘Mass Hysteria’ suggests a very different novel to the one we ultimately get. It is very reminiscent of classic 1950s sci-fi, with its remote, rural setting and talk of a “rare celestial event” as told via newscasters. This rare event turns out to be a meteorite that strikes a local farm. It is a familiar set-up, very much in the vein of ‘The Blob’ or ‘Night of the Comet’ but any notions of a light and fun alien invasion caper are soon dispelled in the first chapter.

The early scenes in ‘Mass Hysteria’ reminded me a great deal of Brian Keene’s seminal novel ‘The Rising’ and, perhaps to a greater extent, the ‘Animosity’ comic series by Marguerite Bennett. In this series, the world is plunged into chaos when animals suddenly become self-aware, begin talking, and overthrow society as we know it. While Hick’s animals don’t talk, they do begin to take a pretty intense dislike of humankind and early scenes, such as the first chapter featuring Melisa and her dog Buckley, who are unlucky enough to live close by the site of the meteor strike. The opening sentence paints a picture of a nervous dog who knows something bad is about to happen. 

He’s not wrong. 

The tension builds as we’re fed information gradually via Melissa’s TV set as to what is happening outside and the more we find out, the more Buckley’s behaviour becomes erratic and, ultimately, violent.

It’s an incredible opening chapter and very definitively sets the ground rules going forward. It is a brutal and unflinching scene, firmly grounded and realistic and all the more affecting for it. Things won’t stay quite so grounded as things escalate later on in the book, but it certainly sets the bar early on and more than justifies the books content warning for extreme horror.

Now that the scene has been set and we know the basics (meteor causes creatures to attack) we begin to get introduced to a pretty wide cast of characters in the midst of this animal apocalypse. The two core characters are Scott, a policeman on duty when the chaos begins, and his teenage daughter Lauren and we spend most of the book following this pair as they navigate the chaos. We also meet a lot of other people, including Scott’s colleague Hendrix and the Mayor of the town the story is set, but most tend to feature in a single chapter before meeting (or doling out) an untimely end. These ‘one and done’ chapters prove to be the most fun, and by far the most memorable, as Hicks uses the opportunity to craft some truly depraved scenes. One early example where an anxious father goes to great pains to get his infant daughter to an emergency room following an animal attack, only to find that the hospital is not the safe haven he expected, is particularly stand-out and certainly not for the faint of heart. It also serves as a turning point for the story, as the feral animals become the least of their concerns and the unexplained phenomenon begins to affect people as well.

If you have ever read Simon Clarks ‘Blood Crazy’ or Garth Ennis’s comic series ‘Crossed’, you will have some idea of what comes next.

The horror (which has been far from tame to begin with) really ramps up once people begin to lose their inhibitions, become inexplicably violent and grow a taste for human flesh. The early scenes of animal attacks are creative, to say the least (squirrels and even robins manage to rack up a pretty impressive body count) but none of the creatures manages to be quite as inventively cruel as people and once humans begin to become infected, all bets are off.

It quickly becomes clear that Hick’s is more interested in following his characters and seeing how they react when placed in extreme situations than he is in furthering the story. The early suggestions about meteorites aren’t really revisited, and the book is stronger for this ambiguity. No real explanation is offered, nor is it really needed. Mass Hysteria has little in the way of plot, focusing instead on presenting a scenario and seeing how his cast responds and it certainly leaves plenty of room for big set pieces and spectacle without dragging down the pacing. Without going too heavily into spoilers, the Mayors’ story about the lion is certainly a memorable one and not something that I’ll be able to cleanse from my brain anytime soon…

The consistent presence of both Scott and Lauren offers the reader some consistency in the absence of a narrative drive and while they spend the early sections of the book apart, they find each other around the midway point and a lot of the book’s heart can be found in these sections. For all of the extreme violence and outlandish spectacle, some of the sections I most enjoyed were the quiet moments between the pair, driving between locations, looking for loved ones and seeking answers. We get a surprisingly large amount of backstory and I do feel you make a genuine connection to the duo. I won’t go into their story any further so as not to spoil their eventual fates, but I will say that you’ll find yourself rooting for them to get out ok.

Mass Hysteria was a lot of fun and a great book to kick off this read-along with. Hicks is clearly a talented writer and manages to start off his story with a grisly and harrowing opening, and consistently escalate things from there. The content warning is no joke and I can honestly say that, even as a fairly seasoned extreme horror reader myself, some of the scenes will stick in my memory for a good long while. It is tempered, however, with an outlandish sense of fun and a dash of black humour, making it more ‘Evil Dead’ than ‘Martyrs’ and entertaining as much as it appals. I would heartily recommend this book to any horror fan who likes their literature gory and their body count astronomical.

Please join me back here in 2 weeks, when we will be reading the subterranean horror novella, ‘Broken Shells’. Hope to see you all then!

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Richard Martin

Richard Martin

Reviewer

Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books. 

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