The original Depraved is a masterpiece among its particular kind (my old review here), and I was looking forward to another fix of depravity and madness. The sequel certainly steps into the dock with a machete in one hand and its erection in the other, and while less lurid in tone and not quite as much fun (if that’s the right word), this is an ice-cold and intense read.
Four years have elapsed since the events of the first book, which concerned a family of perverted mutants in the rural community of Hopkins Bend. We meet Jessica again, the heroine and survivor of the first story, who managed to escape their microcosm of rape, murder and religious sacrifice. Having been ignobly discharged from the military, she finds herself on the run having being framed for a murder set up by powers much bigger than her. Drawn back to Hopkins Bend, now a ghost town having being cleaned out in some hush-up sweep by the army, she discovers that it’s not quite deserted as it initially seems.
The story also follows Sienna and Jodi, sisters from the old family, who are now living in nearby Bedford and no less fond of torture and all things nasty. While Jodi attempts to keep her wild and crumbling family together, Sienna fancies herself a witch and wants to bring her monstrous father back from the grave.
The other main player is Daphne, a gutsy but entitled girl who falls foul of Hopkins Bend on a country drive with her lover. Having been captured and imprisoned by a pair of murderous rednecks, she realises that unless she can think fast, her fate looks like being a life of sex-slavery or becoming the main course for a cannibal feast.
Like the first, this is a very slick and well paced novel. There’s no padding before the action gets going and while it’s not quite the breathless rollercoaster of Depraved, it gives you time to take stock.
The prose is seamless and unintrusive, and one of Bryan Smith’s talents is to make the reader care immediately about people in jeopardy, even if we’ve only just met them. While that is the case here, things aren’t clear-cut and the actions of some characters really tests our loyalties. Perhaps this might be too much for some readers, but it’s well handled, and riffs on the old human-capacity-for-atrocity idea. The descent of some characters still seems a little swift, but I personally liked how it forces us into an experience devoid of comfort zones.
Speaking of which, although the original Depraved is more gruesome and sick, I found its nastiness to have a knowing twinkle. The horrors of Depraved 2 are darker, more sobering, and its very rare that this extreme horror veteran is rattled. There are several powerful scenes of sexual violence and psychotic cruelty, and although any graceless hack can write a no-holds-barred torture scene, it takes a skilled scribe such as Bryan Smith to make it really hit home. I’ll never look at a commercial restaurant grill the same way again.
This is superbly evocative writing and the menace of the backwoods is nailed, providing the familiarity you want from a sequel. I also liked the gentle conspiracy theory angle. It’s not rammed down our throats, but with larger forces at work regarding both Hopkins Bend and the price on Jessica’s head, it allows us to wonder who watches the watchers? It suggests that anything might happen next and that nobody is safe, lead protagonist or otherwise.
I don’t really have any complaints. At first, I found the character of Sienna – although a pleasingly sociopathic villain – to be rather out of place with her black magic and goth teen angst. Perhaps this is because the novel harbours a primitive, rural vibe: the kind that doesn’t normally flirt with either the supernatural or “street” kids. But I was still carried by her story and she provides some of the twists that the later chapters have in store. The finale itself is somewhat bleak, but there’s a definite shade of black humour which serves to temper the grim tone and allows you to close the book with a wry smile.
If you enjoyed the first instalment, then get your blood-sticky palms on Depraved 2. While perhaps not quite scaling those ghastly heights overall, I’m very glad this isn’t just a franchise-style rehash. There’s a refreshing lack of predictability, it moves the plot in new directions, and still finds time to pile on the mood and forcefeed us horror by the bucketload.
The story notes mention that Depraved 3 is a possibility. Although this sequel is nicely tied-up (don’t worry, no annoying cliffhangers or blatant dangling threads to see here) I’d be more than happy to see another. Hopkins Bend can’t have exhausted its potential for degradation and debauchery just yet. Those folks are just too damned good at it.