I received this book for free from the Author's agent in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway
Published by Tor Books on July 7 2015
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Horror
Source: Author's agent
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The nitty-gritty: A loud, drunken horror story with the frantic pace of punk rock, filled with snarky characters and awesome dialog. Oh yeah, and lots of blood.
We were trying to come up with a name for our new drink: giant fountain cups from this hole-in-the-wall pizza place, half-filled with soda, half-filled with cheap hobo wine. Swine. Perfect.
The name even tasted spot on: This shit was awful.
The Unnoticeables is filled with quotable lines like that one, and I’ll share more of them with you later. If you read the blurb on the back of this eye-catching book, you will probably be scratching your head, just like I was. In other words, the blurb doesn’t give you much to go on, which is a good thing, because who wants the blurb to spoil the story? So I ended up going into this pretty much blind, not really knowing what to expect. And that may be why it was such a punch in the face. Brockway doesn’t hold back when it comes to gritty and dark storytelling, and even though I’m well-read in the gritty and dark department, I was still surprised by this book. Brockway’s characters are street kids who have seen just about everything—that is, until the tar men and the Unnoticeables come into their neighborhood and kids start disappearing.
Brockway’s debut takes place (at least partially) on the mean streets of New York in 1977, during the heyday of punk rock. Carey and his band of punks are nearly homeless, only concerned with where their next drink or lay is coming from. They live on the fringes of society, fighting to hold onto their territory, embracing the punk life style with pierced skin and glue-spiked hair. Carey’s seen a lot in his young life, including the time an “angel” abducted his little sister. But one day he’s attacked by a black lumpen monstrosity that can melt skin with only a touch, and soon after, his friend Randall vanishes. Carey knows that in order to save his friend, he and the punks are going to have to follow the Unnoticeables—people who blend into the background and have faces that are hard to remember—into a hellish nightmare.
In 2013 Los Angeles, Kaitlyn is a Hollywood stunt-woman who is struggling to make a living in a competitive field. One night at an industry party, she runs into one of her teen idols, a man named Marco Luis. She’s thrilled when Marco offers to take her home, but less thrilled when he won’t take “no” for an answer and nearly rapes her. But luckily, Kaitlyn is rescued by a strange old man who calls himself Carey, a man who has dealt with monsters like Marco before. When Kaitlyn’s friend Jackie goes missing, Carey knows exactly what he’s dealing with, and he and Kaitlyn team up to get her back.
The story jumps back and forth between the two time periods, Carey and the punks in 1977, and Kaitlyn and Carey in 2013. I’ll admit it took me a while to get into the rhythm of these two points of view, and to try to piece together what was happening. But once the story gets going, I loved the sense of urgency that Brockway creates by showing how the monsters of the past are still a threat in the present day.
If you’re the type of person who scares easily, and especially someone who shies away from graphic violence, beware. The Unnoticeables has some of the most gruesome scenes I’ve ever read, and believe me when I say I’ve read a lot of horror stories. At one point in the story, the characters are lured into a terrifying party, which plays out like a living Bosch painting, full of sex and blood. But Brockway’s characters, in all their snarky glory, manage to keep these scenes from descending into pure terror. Yes, there’s bad shit happening, but the well-timed dialog makes it seem a little less real.
But while the “monsters” are pretty terrifying on their own, what didn’t work for me as well was the way that all three supernatural entities—the tar men, the Unnoticeables, and the angels—fit together into the story. And I have to admit I’m still confused by their odd, symbiotic relationship. One of the characters clearly describes how it all works (and I won’t spoil the details here, sorry!), but even after reading the section that explains it more than once, the whole concept of how the Unnoticeables and the tar men are created still confuses me.
But despite this confusion, I loved Brockway’s writing. His descriptions are so raw and his prose is so vivid you can almost taste it. I could practically hear The Ramones and The Sex Pistols banging away in my head while I was reading. He perfectly captures the grit and pain and emotion of the New York punk scene, full of sex and booze and fighting, and some of it is heartbreakingly funny:
The cops said Debbie tried to light a cigarette and her wig went up in flames. That’s how she died. Officially speaking.
Were cops this fucking stupid everywhere, or was it just in New York City?
This was punk-rock courtship: Paying for somebody’s drunk was like giving them flowers dipped in chocolate.
I loved The Unnoticeables, not so much for the convoluted and sometimes confusing plot, but for Brockway’s ability to recreate the ambiance of a certain time and place. I may not completely understand the purpose of the Unnoticeables, but I could happily read his prose all day. I was lucky enough to meet Robert Brockway at Comic Con, and he cheekily signed my book, “Love and punches.” That pretty much sums it up!
Big thanks to JABberwocky Literary Agency for supplying a review copy.
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