Part Horror, Part Thriller: A Mother’s Dilemma

Author: Julia Grice

Sherry Vincent is haunted by memories of her summer as a 12-year-old: of the handsome teacher, the secret meeting with him and her friends, what he did, and what the town did afterwards. It’s something she can never escape, and now as a recently divorced single mother, raising her beautiful 12-year-old daughter Kady, all the fears are coming back. When someone begins to buzz their remote house with a snowmobile, unsolicited and decidedly adult glamour shots of her daughter appear in town, and violent pornographic tapes start to arrive in the mail anonymously, Sherry fears that her past, and the monster from it, are back with a vengeance.

I grabbed Julia Grice’s Tender Prey in a long-ago eBay horror book haul. The glory of such hauls is finding new authors, and I dived into this one without so much as reading the back. At first I was disappointed. The subject matter is so dark, and it seems like there are a lot of books focusing on pedophilia lately. I prefer my horror unrealistic – monsters and ghouls chasing adults, a world where children are periphery and certainly not violated. But, this is what happens in book hauls. You read what you get and keep an open mind. I’m glad I did, because something about Grice’s prose, the way she described Sherry’s faltering ski-resort, the isolation and the snow, the tension between an overly worried mother and a naïve daughter was enthralling. Good books tell a story, the best books make you simply enjoy the acts of reading and imagination, beyond the artifacts of plot.

Tender Prey is a slow build book, alternating between Sherry’s and Kady’s voices. The tension starts subtle. A mysterious tape arrives in the mail, addressed to Kady. It could be a joke. An accident. A mistake. But as more tapes come, as the elusive snowmobiler begins to show up at odd hours, and as Sherry finally opens herself to the past and starts to dig for clues, it all builds. By the time the true horror begins, we are committed to Sherry and Kady. We love and understand them both. We empathize with the broken mother and fear for the daughter whose childhood is wrenched away.

Thankfully, this book is more along the lines of a thriller than a true horror story. Nothing graphic, either for sex or violence, happens. There is, of course, the pervading threat of what might happen, but Grice does not push it too far. This is a more “real world” type of story than my usual focus on things-that-go-bump-in-the-night read, and I so I appreciated its reality and the fact that Grice stayed within boundaries. Of course, bad things, horrific things still do happen.

The only foible in an otherwise perfect story is the grand reveal. Of course, we finally discover who the tormentor is and (sort of) the reason behind the actions. It’s the only part of the narrative that rings untrue, the only part that is forced. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen until towards the very end, leaving us disappointed in the last twenty odd pages, but having mostly had a successful, enjoyable reading experience. Overall, recommended if you can get your hands on a copy!

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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