I’m off to a bit of a slow start this year with reading, mostly because I’m doing my normal trick where I try to read more than one book at a time. What usually happens in this case is that one book gets pushed to the wayside and gets put in the perilous position of never getting picked back up again. I had to beta-read Heidi’s most recent novel this month, and it came to me when I was about 40% of the way through Gated by Matt Drabble. I’m pretty sure that Gated was either a freebie or super cheap on Amazon that I discovered via BookBub. Just reading the blurb had me hooked.
The gist of Gated is that British couple Michael and Emily Torrance, having lost their unborn child in a terrible car accident, decide to completely reboot their lives by moving to the United States. An e-mail leads them to investigate Eden Gardens, a gated community that is adverstised as “Heaven on Earth, but twice as nice.” They make the leap and relocate to Eden Gardens, where the weather is always nice, the crime rate is zero, and everyone is just as nice as can be. Eventually, Emily becomes pregnant again and the town becomes even more interested in their newest residents. Suddenly, the attention goes from flattering to downright creepy.
I had several thoughts on this book:
- Drabble does a great job of telling this story. It unspools slowly – but never too slowly – allowing the horror of what lies beneath the hospitality and perfection of Eden Gardens to sink in. I kept trying to sneak reading in at the craziest times just to see what happens next. The details were doled out at just the right rate to keep the suspense high and the confusion factor low, something that is not always easy to do.
- The supporting cast of characters complements the main action well. I particularly liked the character of Thom Bray, a 13 year-old who goes snooping around where he shouldn’t and falls afoul of the formidable Sheriff Quinn. He illustrated how boys of that age struggle with still being kids but also young adults.
- This could have easily been a run-of-the-mill Stepford type of story that’s been done a million times, but the back story that was put behind Eden Gardens gave a reason and a motivation for everything that happens. Telling the town’s history in between chapter interludes was a nice touch – it reminded me of the big chunk of back story in Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour that I really loved and was fascinated by.
- I am always a sucker for the evils that lurk beneath suburbia or the sordid things that ordinary people hide from the world. This book had that in spades.
- One thing that brought me out of the story a lot was the author’s penchant for always describing what people were wearing. While I understand that he was trying to describe the scene, it seemed like overwriting to me and made me feel like I was reading a newspaper article from the 60s. Also, the book committed one of my biggest pet peeves and used an apostrophe when pluralizing last names every single time.
I felt like Gated was well worth my time. It kept me guessing up to the last page. It was not afraid to dispense with characters that may be perceived as indispensable. Drabble succeeded so completely in creating an atmosphere of dread in a place where something like that should not exist that there was no way that it was going to go unfinished, even as I beta-read Heidi’s book. I highly recommend it and am eager to read more of Drabble’s work, especially Gated II: Ravnehill Academy. But I have a metric crap ton of other books to read before I buy any more.
If you like horror fiction, give Gated a try – it’s only $2.99 on Amazon.