Some mild plot spoilers follow.
The Crane Institute is a kind of super-max prison for the criminally insane. It’s also located in rural Montana and gets cut off from the outside world for several days by a massive blizzard. If that weren’t bad enough, the head (mad) scientist is also conducting unauthorized medical experiments that are spiraling out of control. Things, as you can imagine, rapidly go downhill from there for those unlucky enough to be trapped inside the Institute with no hope of escape until the weather clears. Paul Wiseman is chief of staff at the Crane Institute, and while he undoubtedly has a tough job, his personal life is in even worse shape as he grieves over his dead son and the dissolution of his marriage in the wake of the tragedy. Wiseman is joined by the rest of the Institute’s staff and a young mother and child in a fight for survival against a host of threats, some merely run-of-the-mill homicidal maniacs, and some much, much worse.
The pace is rapid and doesn’t let up. Chapters tend to be fairly short, with mini-cliffhangers and scene cuts commonplace as the action (and danger) shifts from one character to another. The cast of protagonists, each flawed in their own way, is relatively large, but despite this, even minor characters are well-characterized and far more than the mere caricatures one sometimes finds in horror thrillers with high death tolls. The tension builds from the start, with an especially good opening section that details Wiseman’s background and sets the stage. I absolutely won’t spoil you on who lives and who dies – I found myself surprised on this account several times – but I will say that it’s a wild rollercoaster ride that will keep you guessing until the end. There’s plenty of blood and gore for those who like that sort of thing in their horror, but I didn’t find it to be gratuitous or exploitative as those violent elements sometimes can be. You have to be willing to suspend your disbelief just a bit in terms of some of the mad science elements of the book, though that’s little different from most thrillers with a medical component.
If I have any complaints about THE LOON – and I certainly don’t have any major ones – it’s that we didn’t actually get to see much interaction between the staff and the patients (with one exception). The story could only have been stronger if, say, more of the lunatics had gotten loose and started wreaking havoc, or we had gotten to see some questionable “treatments” or therapy sessions with them before the Institute descends into total chaos, but that’s a fairly minor complaint. There are already plenty of antagonists, and the plot flows nicely as is.
Highly recommended for horror and thriller lovers. It’s fast-moving, as it has to be, and bloody and violent, but not disgustingly gory. THE LOON also includes a fun element of mad science to make this a well-developed “mad science and medical experimentation gone wrong” story. Collings knows how to write thrillers, and I’m looking forward to reading more from him.
Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers