Last year saw several horror novels achieve the kind of mainstream success that has mostly eluded the genre since the 1990s. Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic both cracked the bestseller lists and received widespread critical acclaim for tackling serious issues and increasing representation while still delivering legitimate chills. Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires managed both feats as well while being a more purely “fun” tale. He’s hoping to repeat that success again this Summer with The Final Girl Support Group, a novel that both repeats and builds on some of the themes from last Summer’s hit, while also being a very different beast entirely.
The story operates in a world in which popular slasher movie franchises like Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Scream (along with some less popular entries like Silent Night, Deadly Night) are all based on real events that befell a diverse group of women. Each of them is known by the media as a “final girl”, a term that fans use to describe what is perhaps the most common trope of the genre. As one would expect of being the sole survivor of an incredibly tragic event, the women struggle with various psychiatric issues and deal with them (or not) in their own ways and meeting regularly with a therapist for group support sessions.
Lynnette is one of these girls, and is perhaps the one dealing with her trauma the worst out of the group of 5. She keeps herself locked in her apartment with the curtains drawn most of the day, only venturing out when absolutely necessary, and has several extreme security measures in place. When one of the group winds up dead, it is no surprise then that she is the first to begin to suspect that someone is out to get them all, while the others just write it off as paranoia. Her erratic behavior does little to help her cause, even as further attacks occur against her and the others, so she sets about trying to find out just who could be after them, and how she can stop them.
Despite being heavily inspired by several classic movies of the genre, this book feels much more like suspense than horror. While we do get descriptions of the different events that befell the women as girls, things mostly play out like a straight thriller with bursts of action. Since the girls’ backstories are based on actual movies (though each has a new title here, presumably for copyright reasons), they have a built-in familiarity for anyone who has seen the movies being referenced. This can be good in that it offers up some fun callbacks, but bad in that it effectively removes one of the bigger openings for unbridled creativity that the plot affords. Aside from Lynnette, none of the other women are particularly well-developed, so it’s a good thing that she is an interesting character, though this is likely to disappoint some who really enjoyed the bigger focus on the group’s dynamics in Hendrix’s previous novel. All that aside though, this is a fun read, which builds up some well-earned tension by the end, and features a central mystery around the killer’s identity that fells both hard-to-guess and satisfying. ★★★★
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor