REVIEW: The Angel of Indian Lake by Stephen Graham Jones

Four years have passed since the events of Don’t Fear the Reaper, the second volume in Stephen Graham Jones’ Indian Lake Trilogy. As The Angel of Indian Lake opens, Halloween is coming to Proofrock, Idaho, but—still scarred by the Independence Day Massacre of eight years ago and the bloody rampage of serial killer Dark Mill South’s so-called “reunion tour” of four years past—the picturesque lake town is doing everything it can to downplay the spooky season. Fresh out of prison for a parole violation, Proofrock’s perennial scapegoat Jade Daniels is likewise keeping a low profile. Back in the only home she knows, as flawed and unwelcoming as it is, she ekes out a quiet life as the local high school’s history teacher. Proofrock is one town where the crimes of the past refused to stay buried, however. When a sheriff’s vehicle lost in the mountains during Dark Mill South’s killing spree is rediscovered, a high school student’s quad-copter drone footage also reveals a number of fresh corpses in the immediate vicinity, including students of Jade’s. Try as she might to avoid becoming sucked in to the bloody affair, a subsequent daylight murder on the high school’s doorstep demands Jade’s immediate attention. Chaos erupts, bodies fall, and the legendary Angel of Indian Lake from Proofrock’s frontier days lurks around the periphery.

The Angel of Indian LakeMuch like Don’t Fear the Reaper, The Angel of Indian Lake takes place in an extremely compressed span of time: immediately before, during, and after Halloween. The pacing is similarly relentless, but the stakes are higher than ever. Not only is Proofrock itself facing an existential threat, Jade must put herself in harm’s way to to protect the few surviving residents of Proofrock that hardened and traumatized Jade has allowed herself to love. While she has become somewhat (understandably) ambivalent to horror movies after being immersed in so much real-life carnage over the past eight years, once again Jade puts her encyclopedic knowledge of slasher flicks and their tropes to work in an effort to live to see another day.

As with the first two books in the Indian Lake Trilogy, Jade remains the wounded but defiant heart of the narrative in The Angel of Indian Lake. Each of the books depends heavily on their nuanced portrayals of a misunderstood and neglected misfit that has a tendency to vehemently reject the few helping hands extended in her direction out of fear of betrayal. Misanthropic characters are difficult to get right, and are always at risk of being found frustrating or unlikable by readers, but Jade has always been rendered with such aching empathy that the audience can’t help but share her fears and see past the bulletproof shell she has constructed around herself. Jones describes her as the girl whose heart is too big for her body, and the success of the books (and popularity of “Jade Daniels is my Final Girl” T-shirts) has made it clear that she resonates with many readers. At her core, Jade remains the same complicated character that won over readers with her first appearance in My Heart is a Chainsaw, but she has matured and grown. She’s still as rebellious as ever, but time, therapy, and the support of her chosen family have rounded off some of her edges, creating a more polished and even-tempered version of herself. And where previously readers were only provided occasional glimpses directly into Jade’s mind via horror film-related essays submitted to her high school high school teacher, The Angel of Indian Lake shifts from the third person to a first-person perspective, with Jade herself as the narrator. Constantly under pressure as she struggles for her life, Jade’s mind runs a mile a minute, thoughts swirling with movie trivia, hopes, fears, assumptions, misinterpretations, and jumped-to conclusions. Her stream-of-consciousness perspective is sometimes a challenging one, as it’s occasionally difficult for the reader to distinguish actual events from flights of fancy, but the intimacy of her perspective enhances the experience. Jade and her horror-drenched worldview are the highlight of these books, making the move to first person perspective a wise storytelling choice.

While it was certainly present in the previous volumes, Jones’ masterful and empathetic characterization of supporting characters is particularly noticeable in The Angel of Indian Lake. Like Jade, her best friend Letha and her husband Sheriff Banner have also grown into themselves while doing their best to cope with Proofrock’s numerous tragedies. While the characters’ dialogue is by turns moving, wry, or devastating, Jones also manages to communicate so much through understatement, words left unsaid, and subtle body language.

In the Acknowledgments section of the book, Jones frankly discusses the challenges he faced writing The Angel of Indian Lake. While it must have been an intimidating task attempting to live up to the fan expectations accumulated with the first two books, it was surprising to see how little material he had prepared ahead of time. None of this blank space was obvious while reading the book, the ease with which Jones picked up plot threads from the first two volumes and interwove them with new events made it seem like he had everything exhaustively planned from the start. Minor characters have surprising destinies and seemingly throwaway elements receive unexpected payoffs. Jones makes executing a satisfying horror trilogy look easy, in a way that very few authors to date have managed.

With The Angel of Indian Lake, Jade Daniels’ story gets the ending it deserves. Expect award nominations to follow.

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Robin Marx

Robin Marx

Born in Spain and raised in the United States, Robin Marx has lived in Japan for more than two decades. He works in the video game industry, handling localization and international licensing. In addition to over a dozen video games, his writing has appeared in a number of role-playing game supplements. He lives with his wife and their two daughters. You can link up with Robin over at: https://mastodon.social/@RobinMarx