I’ve been an avid horror fan since I first picked up Rose Madder, one of Stephen Kings criminally underrated books, at about 13. It was a bit heavy for me then, sure, but the themes stuck with me and, though I rarely write it, I unerringly return to read horror.
So, the fact that Cronin’s The Passage got a thumbs up from King didn’t hurt the draw I felt to it just from seeing the cover (and the pleasing thickness of the book – if you’re a fast reader too, you’ll know that thick books are life, especially when you commute!).
It meanders a bit, to be honest, and there were times that I wondered how the prologue, despite how compelling and readable it was, was relevant… or, in fact, whether the whole first section of the book was needed. Spoiler alert; it was. Cronin manages to play the long game so well that he tied loose ends that I, the reader, forgot about, and that’s no easy task because”the reader”, as any author will tell you, has a long and merciless memory. It’s one of those books that feels like a history rather than a story, but it has a personal touch that makes you invested in it; you want the best for these characters, and you fear the worst because Cronin sets up the expectation early that anything can happen, and that no-one is safe. I won’t give you plot spoilers, though, so instead I’ll give you the low down on the technical stuff which I know, as writers and followers of this page, you’ll want to know about.
If you want to master close third person writing Cronin presents a good example of how it can be done so well; he ensures that the reader has context, but not so much extra information that the path ahead becomes predictable. The age of writing advice “show, don’t tell” is put to use in this book, but with the added facet of “obscure that which is not immediately necessary”. The characterisation is consistent, plausible, and captivating. Amy seems to act as a mysterious guide for the reader as well as Peter, Alicia, and the group; its as if she remembers all those loose ends for us and carries the story to a natural, though perhaps not satisfying conclusion.
In that sense, however, its key to remember that The Passage is not a fully stand alone book; the story continues with The Twelve .
The best thing I can say for The Passage, however, is that it made me afraid of vampires for the first time since ‘Salems Lot, and it did so in a way which also made me sad for them. The humanity of Cronins vampire is not lost; it’s buried under the weight of forgetfulness and fever.