In a small coastal city in the continental US people begin their week without the knowledge that it may be their last. Some breeze through their days with little concern while others bear the weight of terrible decisions on their shoulders.
Trevor Burnette is one such man, husband to Krista and father to Demy, a family man. But Trevor had made his mistakes, and now he finds himself paying for them.
Trevor thinks his world may crumble around him, and he may be right.
But not for the reasons he thinks.
A man in white wanders into town, white suit and white shoes, white hair and white beard. Head to toe in white, with a dazzling smile to match. He walks with a confident swagger, and two steps behind him Hell sniff at his heels.
As bad as Trevor Burnette’s week is, it’s going to get a hell of a lot worse.
James McNally’s The Affected is a book about a small town fighting off an invasion of evil, as told through a small mixture of unusually diverse characters. First and foremost we have Demy Burnette, the young son of Trevor and Krista. A profoundly deaf boy from birth Demy speaks with sign language and manages to lip those around him with surprising ease for his age. Everyone who meets him immediately falls under his spell, and the readers of The Affected are no more resistant to his charm than any of the characters.
Immediately I liked Demy. Having lived my younger years in a house with a profoundly deaf uncle I could recognise a lot of Demy’s struggles. Not only did I find the character quite charming but I felt he was presented rather realistically, and this extended to his mother and father.
We begin the book to find that Trevor is in the dog house with his wife, rather deservingly so, but even so we like Trevor. There’s nothing malicious in the man, he’s behaved appallingly, but his sorrow is obvious and heart-felt. Krista, Trevor’s wife, is slightly less sympathetic, but then we are never really treated to seeing the world through her eyes as we are with Trevor and Demy. So there is a little more distance between her and the reader.
One other character of note among the seeming plethora of characters in The Affected is Ethan Edwards. A newcomer to the town, Ethan has purchased a dilapidated farmhouse to renovate as a bed and breakfast. He is a point of local curiosity, a man with his own secrets that may prove far more important to those around him than many might think.
The Affected moves pretty fast, each chapter is often approached as a near self contained story about a particular resident of the town. On occasion that character is never revisited, or only seen again very briefly, but it succeeds in building the illusion that the town is filled with a mass of people, each pursuing their own goals in life.
Occasionally early chapters would seem a little verbose in style, following characters though relatively innocuous routines in rather more detail than I’d have liked. But this had the effect of rendering a mundane existence for the residents of the town. Showing their lives as predictable, perhaps even boring, and later – when things become far less predictable as well as far less boring – the style changes to something much more punchy. So this over description may have been a technical ploy to slow down the reader and make them feel the sedate nature of the town, if true then this is a partially effective ploy that could have been done – in my view at least – a little more subtly.
Once things get moving they move pretty fast, with a good amount of death and destruction in its wake. For the most part this is handled well, and the pacing is not too fast allowing the reader to learn enough about the residents of the town to feel their loss once they are dispatched. There are one or two odd shifts in this pace. At one point there seems too rapid a succession between a particular death, the discovery of the death and the wake, which seemed pretty jumbled to me, but once this was over the story returned to a more solid standing with its pace.
As the story concludes I was pleased to find an understandable explanation for all the carnage and a good resolution to the story that allowed for a continuation. The ending does feel a little rushed, and may have had more of an effect if we’d have had more time to drip feed the explanation rather than being told it in one go. It doesn’t spoil the ending, but the nightmarish situation the family finds themselves in could have been more intense if it had more time to build.
I quite liked The Affected, and none of the little niggles I saw in it did much to spoil the overall effect. The book left me wondering what would happen to the remaining characters, but as this book was written back in 2018, there may not be any kind of follow up.
Doing a quick google search on the author I found one of his favourite writers was Stephen King, and I found this quite telling. The Affected goes for many of Stephen King’s usual tropes: small town horror, invasion by an evil force and family troubles, so I thought the influence to be quite apparent.
James McNally is not Stephen King (I’m certain he would nod and smile at this statement), but there is a quality to his work that makes me think that, with some polish and consideration, he could do the small town horror thing pretty proudly if he put his mind to it. If I had the opportunity to read this book pre-release I’d have told him I liked it, but then offer a list of things I thought he could do better, and not because I think he’s a bad writer, just because there are moments in The Affected where I think he’s capable of raising the bar for himself.
The version of the book I’m reviewing here is the Audible Audiobook, performed by Anna Marie Peloso. Peloso has a young voice, one of those that I have little doubt makes her sound like a teen when she calls someone on the phone, and at times I wasn’t certain she was right for this particular story.
I’m not saying that Peloso’s performance was a bad one, just that her voice sometimes distracted from some of the male characters she portrayed, especially the older ones. I’d love to hear her perform a YA kind of novel, something with a younger cast of characters that would better lend themselves to her voice. Of course this is mainly a matter of taste on my part, and I have to stress that she has an agreeable voice that does nothing to harm the book, it just doesn’t mesh with it as well as I’d have hoped.
In conclusion, I have another James McNally book in my collection called Black Fair, so am I going to read it at some point?
Yeah, I think I will.
Which – I think – is a good result.
So if you want something quick and easy to get through. Something that feels familiar enough that it’s a little like a literary version of comfort food then you could do worse than The Affected. For me it was worth it just to meet Demy Burnette and his family.