hell, south carolina

Hell, South Carolina – Book Review

Thank you to author Connor DeBruler for providing me with a copy of Hell, South Carolina in exchange for this honest review.

Welcome to Hell, South Carolina. Or at least that used to be its official name before they changed it to something a little less threatening. The name change didn’t change the culture though and the small town is just as dangerous as ever, especially for those within the LGBTQ community. Hate slurs and beatings are not uncommon here.

The book opens with a scary story about a serial killer nicknamed The Coyote and his time in prison. Based on a real person (within the book that is) but the story comes across as a campfire tale, exaggerated and overstated. He has always stuck by his statements that an entity named Scarecrow has caused him to commit the murders. This supernatural bend lends his story to be manipulated more than most.

The novel alternates chapters between Carlo, a gay man who has moved back to Hell for revenge, and Sten, a semi-closeted bisexual who has come all the way from Germany to get away from his brother’s reputation as a notorious serial killer. Note, not the same serial killer as the Coyote.

They meet each other one day in a convenience store but discover they have a connection through Tillandsia, a trans dominatrix. She’s an old friend of Carlo’s and he’s staying with her until he can get on his feet. Sten is a new client.

These three characters are desperate to find something in life worth holding on to. They have never found their places in life and everything gets even more uncertain when a new serial killer pops up in Hell, South Carolina. Trans women are found murdered around town, the only thing they have in common is that they were assigned male at birth and have been identifying as women.

This thrilling novel explores how unsafe a town can feel when even the police cannot be trusted. (Never trust the police, this applies to real life too). When everything is dangerous a trusted friend becomes the most valuable thing a person can have.

By the time the mystery unravels and the villain appears everything gets really messed up really fast. What was a slow burn small town murder story shifts to something far more grotesque. The ending is sure to be unexpected for any reader, it’s original and very dark.

Hell, South Carolina straddles genres and although it is clearly a thriller or horror novel it has elements of magical realism that drift in and out, almost like a dream. The reader can’t be sure if these elements are real or only real to a few of the characters. Belief and faith play a role here that has nothing to do with religion.

DeBruler has the gift of grit. All of his novels are tantalizing in the same way intrusive thoughts make fire seem touchable. I strongly recommend any of his books for your reading list.

5/5 hells 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

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