A gripping, philosophical horror thriller…
Survival, grief, familial conflict, and the quest for self-identity are given a dark and fantastical treatment in McDowell’s latest thriller, the third in the A Nightmare in Riverton. 1991. Greg Preakle, who is known as the “Pool Man,” has always worked at the swimming pool at The Oak Hollow Hotel, years before it came under the hotel’s management. When a body is found floating in the pool, the new management decides to shut it down, robbing Greg of his job and livelihood. Desperate to make ends meet, he accepts the obnoxious John Fatts’s job offer at Riverton high, unaware of the strange turn of the fate, which will unravel long-buried secrets of the past, upturning his earlier notions about family and friendship. McDowell delivers a moving and engaging portrait of the complexities of familial love and takes readers to the boundaries between innocence and immortality and self-preservation and sacrifice. The narrative, which alternates between the past and the present timelines, uncovers Greg’s backstory, uniting it with the strange happenings in his present. McDowell deftly handles the complications of the intertwined storylines: Greg’s emerging peril in the present, the devastatingly tragic past marked by sad memories and trauma of death, and another thread of what actually links Greg’s present to his past. Well-developed, authentic characters abound, but it’s Greg who shines all the way through. Sensitive and curious, he is shaped by his family conflicts and tragedies—his father’s impossible expectations, his brother’s tragic fate, and his mother’s inability to get over Denny’s untimely death—the insidiousness of all of which the story fully explores. A slowly unwinding tale about life, death, secrets, and betrayals, the story seems pretty straightforward at first. But as the narrative progresses forward, readers will find themselves questioning what is fact and what is fiction and rooting for cheering Greg as he journeys in the new, strange world of Riverton High. McDowell’s rich landscape incorporates dark fiction’s traditional tropes (the grisly TV show games, John’s strange addictions, the secrets lurking on the school grounds among others impart an air of grimness to the story) while providing him with room to create a poignant story emphasizing the intricacies of familial bonds, mental illness, expectations, life purpose, grief, pain, regret, and redemption. Suspenseful, and at times chilling, this dark thriller with a touch of otherworldly will keep readers on the edges of their seats.
(A Nightmare in Riverton Novel)