Book Review: Fear by Ronald Kelly


Title: Fear

Author: Ronald Kelly

Release date: Originally published September 1, 1994, rereleased November 23, 2011

One thing I’ve come to realize when you take the time and energy to review books regularly, is that some books will come your way in the oddest of circumstances. Take ‘Fear’ from Ronald Kelly. This came onto my radar after a Twitter tither erupted when Mr. Kelly tweeted that from a veteran horror writer it appeared harder to find people to review their work. I personally didn’t understand what the issue was (and I’m not trying to rehash or reopen any arguments) but I took a look at Mr. Kelly’s Goodreads page and was immediately intrigued. I snagged 4 or 5 of his works almost immediately. But as my TBR always leans at angles beyond what even gravity says is possible (in actuality I read on a Kindle!) it took me a bit to get to ‘Fear.’

What I liked: I’d previously read some of Ronald’s short stories in anthologies and loved the way he wrote. His characters and settings live and breathe and bring the reader to that time and place. So, knowing that I was excited to dive into ‘Fear.’

While reading this, I thought of an essay Ronald had posted on Facebook. One of the things mentioned was that he found new books to often push past character development and plot setup in order to dive into the action and get right to the point. I can honestly say my own writing has done just that before, and he makes a valid point. It’s also one of the reasons we see older books typically 2-3x longer than new releases. I’m not going to consider novellas as part of this equation as the very nature of novellas is short and sweet.

Saying all of that was for a point. ‘Fear’ follows our young main character Jeb Sweeny, who lives in Mangum County. This is one county over from Fear County, where the laws of nature and man are different. Initially we get two plot points that start the story off. Jeb’s father Sam is slowwitted. He fought in WWII and suffered a brain injury which has resulted in a form of amnesia where he can’t remember anything. Jeb and Sam live with Jeb’s grandmother, a woman who is doing her best to care for her son and grandson, even as she is slowly felled by Cancer.

All of this comes to a head when a snake-like creature makes its way into the county and begins to slaughter animals and kidnap children.

From here, Kelly takes Jeb, Sam and an African American male named Roscoe into the heart of Fear County to try and fix the three issues in Jeb’s life.

While this book was released in 1994 originally, it is all too topical with the looks at race that are portrayed and Kelly has crafted some fantastic characters. As for the snake creature, these scenes themselves play out as some of the most frightening scenes I’ve ever read. It may be partly my life long obsession with snakes, but man did Kelly deliver when describing the events and the creature itself.

The foray into Fear County was fantastic and seeing the oddities that they encounter was fantastic and was a great look at the underbelly of the South. The language used is not PC in the least which elevated the tension and the truthness of the story. Without the specific uses of certain words, some of the scenes would’ve felt canned and flat.

One thing I will note – Kelly’s crafting of the characters and their back stories really made for some emotional kicks later on when bad things inevitably happened and there was a few times I felt myself getting close to tears.

What I didn’t like:  Two minor things. I was a bit annoyed at how long the trip into Fear County took in terms of book real estate. The entire time I was thinking ‘GET BACK FASTER!’ You knew things were happening and that the snake creature was on the prowl. Just get back! Haha! The second thing was the continual gullibility of Jeb. He frequently walked into back situations and while at first it was just a character thing where he’s a young trusting kid, but by the 2nd and 3rd times you really began to want to give him a smack!

Why you should buy this: This novel was pretty close to perfection. We get solid back story, story arcs for each of the three main characters and resolution for all three of the narratives that we get introduced too. Along the way, we meet some great secondary characters and the events that occur all worked to ramp up each and every part of the story.

Ronald Kelly is truly a master at the craft and shows why he’s been in the game for as long as he has. He seems to have found a new gear as of late with his output, which bodes well for long time fans as well as those like myself who’ve just finally made the plunge.


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