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Psycho Killers in Love by C. T. Phipps

Psycho Killers in Love by C. T. Phipps
4
Book Name: Psycho Killers in Love
Author: C. T. Phipps
Publisher(s): Crossroad Press
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Horror / Urban Fantasy / Satire
Release Date: August 25, 2020

I like books that make me think, including those with layered storytelling and deep metaphors you can peel back like an onion to find more and more thought-provoking material. But sometimes, especially times like these, escaping into a page-turner of a light romp is exactly the break one needs.

This is absolutely the case with C. T. Phipps’ latest novel, Psycho Killers in Love, a delightful spoof of slasher and pulp action movies. Set in the United States of Monsters (the same world as Phipps’ Weredeer and Fangton series) during the 2000 election, it’s a nostalgic and humorous homage to Halloween, Psycho, Nightmare on Elm Street, and every other movie featuring a high body count and an unstoppable weirdo with a blade. In classic Phipps style, the protagonist of Psycho Killers is a weird guy with a knife, a slasher who teams up with a “final girl” to stop some rich dudes from hunting college sorority girls in their own Most Dangerous Game. Phipps loves to make his antiheros lovable, and Psycho Killers’ William England is adorable. He’s a deranged killer with a heart of gold, who chafes at the villain’s role and uses his supernatural powers for good—like an immortal Dexter, with tag lines.

The Bay Harbor Butcher is only one of a long list of horror villains and heroines who get a tip of the hat as William, his sister Carrie, their dog Cujo, and final girl Nancy battle monsters of both the supernatural and mortal human varieties. Right off the bat, William and Carrie have to fend off the ghost of their ax-murderer/bad Santa father, Billy. A Christmas-obsessed nag, Billy haunts his children mainly so he can express his disappointment that William would rather pursue accounting than murder and also berate Carrie for her enthusiastic embrace of the family business (slashing is man’s work, after all). Billy also strongly disapproves of William’s budding romance with Nancy, a young woman whose maternal ancestors are all slasher-vanquishers. Against their father’s wishes, William and Carrie team up with Nancy to save her sorority sisters from the blood-thirsty tycoons.

Banter is a hallmark of Phipps work and something his fans count on. The balance between action and comedic dialogue can be a hard one to hit, however, and for my taste there’s too much chit-chat in the opening pages of Psycho Killers. The one-liners don’t always land, and where quips can enhance action sequences on film, in print they often seem forced and drain tension. Such is the case here, at least early on, where a long conversation serves to orient the reader to the rules of this world and the personal histories of the main characters, but which in my mind bogged down the pacing. Yet once the plot gets going, after William is drawn physically into a mind-bending nightmare, followed by the dark Scoobie gang’s arrival at a spooky farmhouse, Phipps hits his stride. From there, gang goes up against cannibals, dirty cops, meth-dealing hicks, mercenaries, demons, evil gods, and even a shoggoth (a word I was happy to learn in time to watch the premier of Lovecraft Country) in a rockin’ rollercoaster of a plot that kept me turning pages to see what lurked around the next corner.

For all the fun in its pages, Psycho Killers also ticks the “thought-provoking” box for me. There’s always a lot of subtext and subtle commentary in Phipps work about the nature of good and evil and whether ordinary human greed, corruption, and hubris aren’t worse than actual demons and monsters. In Psycho Killers, we get a glimpse of the United States of Monsters before the world’s supernatural creatures have been revealed as real. In the Weredeer and Fangton books, supernaturals are “out” and live under a Jim Crow–like set of laws restricting their movements and condoning their murder. In Psycho Killers, the supernaturals still live underground, where they can be exploited as just another resource by wealthy capitalists. Oppression is a constant undercurrent in Phipps’ work, and one of my favorite aspects is how he explores the way injustice is a byproduct of power. In his Wraith Knight books, he tackles the theme head on with a protagonist who desperately wants to—and theoretically could—expand fairness to everyone in his world, but whose efforts are constantly stymied by the corrupting influence of righteous absolutism. The citizens of the United States of Monsters have a much smaller scope of influence and cannot hope to bring down the vast structures of systematic oppression built by plutocrats and the government. All they can do is carve out a little bit of safety and security for themselves, one body at a time.

Between the laughs, this book gives one a lot to think about, and I sincerely hope William and Nancy will be back for more adventures.

Reviewer’s Note: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar C.T Phipps says:

    Fantastic review, Amanda. Yes, you are correct about the politics of my books. Making the 2000 Election a backdrop for the main characters fighting against a bunch of rich and evil cultists murdering people for sport is entirely deliberate. Though for me it’s not a 1:1 correlation just as an acknowledgement that was about the time I started really noticing things wrong in the world.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

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