Book Review – Those Who Came Before by J.H. Moncrieff

I’ve been a big fan of J.H. Moncrieff’s work for a couple of years. I’ve read seven of her titles, including all four books in the “Ghost Writers” series plus; “Return to Dyatlov Pass,” “Monsters In Our Wake,” and “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave.” J.H. was also the first author to agree to an interview in my “Third Degree” feature on The Haunted Pen website. So when I was offered the chance to read a review copy of “Those Who Came Before,” I jumped at it and wasn’t disappointed.

The story expertly blends several genres – police procedural, historical fiction, supernatural – but at its core, this is a darn good horror story.

Here’s the Goodreads / Amazon blurb:

People are dying at Strong Lake, and the worst is yet to come.

An idyllic weekend camping trip is cut short when Reese Wallace’s friends are brutally murdered. As the group’s only survivor, Reese is the prime suspect, and his story doesn’t make much sense. A disembodied voice warning him to leave the campground the night before? A strange, blackened tree that gave him an electric shock when he cut it down for firewood?

Detective Greyeyes isn’t having any of it – until she hears the voice herself and finds an arrowhead at the crime scene – an arrowhead she can’t get rid of. Troubling visions of a doomed Native American tribe who once called the campground home, and rumors of cursed land and a mythical beast plague the strangest murder case she’s ever been a part of.

When I first started reading, my initial thought was “Oh, no, not another deserted campground story.” But I should’ve known better than to doubt the author. This is a million miles away from being a standard-issue campground slasher story.

One thing I’ve noticed throughout everything I’ve read by J.H. Moncrieff is she writes great characters and descriptions, and this book is no exception. In fact, I think she’s raised her own bar. The characters have a lifelike feel, like someone you would speak to in a store or a coffee shop. The characters have depth and they elicit genuine feelings from the reader.

Each character has a backstory and a personality. After only a couple of pages I ‘knew’ the characters, or someone like them in real life, and that familiarity kept me reading for long periods at a time. When you, as a reader, connect to a character, the story becomes real and even more compelling. The skill to write such good characterization is an art form and I tip my Fedora to the author for doing it so well.

Told from different points of view from first person to third person, the book is atmospheric in both the present tense and in flashback. Historical fiction has to be gripping to keep me reading, and “Those Who Came Before” gripped me where it hurts.

Any horror fan will know that Native American folklore is dark and scary and the author portrays this aspect wonderfully with the appearance of a demon – the brutal, nightmarish Wendigo. The weaving of historical data into the story is seamless. I found a lot of this part of the book to be thought provoking and has led me to Google for more information on more than a few occasions, I had no idea that small pox was introduced through gifts of infected blankets.

I think it’s one of those rare stories where I can’t find fault. Yes, it was that good. I could write a whole lot more about this book, but I won’t. You need to be reading “Those Who Came Before,” not reading my review. As far as I’m concerned, J.H.’s work gets better and better and this release is a winner from the first word to the last.

The Haunted Pen Rating:

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