Peter Meredith,
The Punished
(independent, 2012)

Twelve-year-old Curtis Regis has just entered his ninth foster home, but it's no big deal. This is old hat to Curt. He'll just be here for a quick meal or two, maybe find some silver to steal and be on his merry way, back to his carefree lifestyle of self-reliance. He knows this will just be one more short stay.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

The Punished drew me in from the very beginning. We are first introduced to a faded-looking girl as she relishes her toast and marmalade, "as if the taste of orange marmalade was a great thing and worth savoring." The reason for this, as well as the other children's initial, palpable fear of Curt, becomes evident as the story progresses. Author Peter Meredith gives us a tangible feeling for the oppressive silence of the household and the generally constricting atmosphere of the place. The warped sense of time the children experience is like looking into a funhouse mirror as one day blends into the next and one week slips into another, with no respite from the bland repetition of the days. It becomes obvious that there is some strange evil lurking in the house, but what is the thing that sets the occupants so on edge? Suspense builds.

Meredith really gets into the inner workings of Curt's mind. He is not one to give up easily. We get a good sense of his back story, but not that of the other children, which I think is appropriate to the book. The mystery relies on the anonymity of the small group. The point is not how they came to be there, but simply that they are.

We do, however, get a good sense of the personalities of the others. It becomes evident that the each of the children has descended into his or her own unique madness from living with the terror of what lurks in the house. As Curt observes Matt's ruthless viciousness, Beth's full-blown insanity, Paul's psychosis and Amber's frequent trance-like states, he fears the same will happen to him, but his cunning saves him time and again. His almost psychic ability to "read" the house and its moods guides him as the other children turn on and sabotage each other to avoid punishment. The children's distrust of Curt when he doesn't "break" causes them to sabotage him, too.

Curt's first punishment, in all its brutality, is almost a letdown after all the gut-wrenching suspense, although Meredith shows great imagination. The true horror lies in the waiting, the watching, the wondering ... the not knowing. Who will be next, when, why? The frustrating anticipation of the next punishment is always in the forefront of everyone's mind. The novel then progresses into a cat-and-mouse psychological thriller that will have the reader on the edge of his seat and holding his breath every time one of the children inadvertently makes a sound.

However, I must make mention of the atrociously poor editing here. The incomplete and/or run-on sentences, misspelled and/or inappropriately used words, incorrect punctuation and sometimes painfully awkward phrases were frequent and glaring to the point of distraction, and the author really needs to clean this up.

Editing aside, Meredith has crafted a suspenseful thriller of the highest order. His talent for crafting such an engrossing tale that takes place in a singular location over the course of just several weeks with few characters is impressive. I really liked how he writes. His ability to mention a thought and then progress into a stream-of-consciousness tangent reminds me of some of King's best work. I finished the book rather quickly as I was up reading late into the night often. I'm not sure if that was from fear of going to bed and having a nightmare or an inability to just put the darned book down for the night. I just had to see what happened next.

This was a totally satisfying read. If you're a fan of the horror genre, you're not going to want to miss this one.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

8 October 2016

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