“It doesn’t matter so much whether you believe in monsters, if they believe in you.”
Let me just start this review off by saying that I am a complete wimp and stay far away from most horror stories. And yet, as soon as I saw that this quirky queer adult horror comedy had ‘Buzzfeed Unsolved’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ vibes, I simply could not resist. The Erstwhile Tyler Kyle smoothly blends elements of horror, comedy, mystery, pyschological thriller, and romance to create an utterly captivating and refreshing story. It will creep under your skin and take you on a wild emotional rollercoaster, leaving you competely reeling in the best way imaginable.
This story follows Tyler Kyle, a snarky 30-year-old actor who somewhat reluctantly runs a ridiculously popular cryptid investigation show with his best friend Josh. As a sceptic, he has never been extremely invested in any of their investigations, but now a new mystery with a very personal touch has presented itself.
After receiving a mysterious video of his mom, who abandoned him 18 years ago, he flies out on his own to the eerie and secluded Echo Island where dark and twisted secrets are just waiting to be uncovered. And no, this is definitely not also a perfect excuse to run away from his feelings and escape his queer panic after drunkenly making out with his “straight” best friend in a hot tub… not at all.
Right from the very first page, I was completely captivated by Tyler’s extremely strong voice and his dark and self-deprecating humour. His personality just oozes off the page and all his virtues and vices are on full display, which makes him such a painfully complex, realistic, and oddly relatable character. I wasn’t even sure if I liked him at first, yet somehow he crept up on me and I was fully emotionally invested by the end.
On top of that, I also really loved how each of the vibrant and complex side characters had their own compelling backstory and got their own time to shine. Even characters that don’t appear on the page until the final 25% felt like they had more emotional depth than some people I know in real life, which is just mind blowing to me. The delicious and incredibly tense character dynamics were so incredibly compelling to me, keeping me both highly entertained and slightly unsettled at the same time.
Ultimately, though, it was the extremely juicy and complicated relationship between Tyler and Josh that became the highlight of the story for me. It’s absolutely beyond me how the author managed to get me SO invested in this dynamic when they are separated for the majority of the story. I believed in their bond from the very first page and the more I read, the more I started wishing they could just get their happily ever after already. But the slow-burn is tantalising, and I was totally living for it.
And all this stupidly strong character work really helped ground this story for me, even when the plot went a bit off the walls. I honestly felt like I wasn’t just reading about the zany experiences of these characters, but I actually lived them myself.
The panic, the dread, the anxiety, the unease, the confusion, the delirium, the suspicion, the exhilaration; all these feelings were captured SO well, for better or worse. And Westenra’s hypnotising and lyrical prose only magnified the intensity of the story, resulting in a sort of fever dream-like reading experience that I absolutely adored.
This is not the type of horror story that is full of jump scares or disturbing sequences, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling or haunting. There are some surprising supernatural elements and a couple of scenes including some gory body horror that made me shudder, but it’s truly the depravity of humanity that will keep you up at night. The atmosphere is simply suffocating, the mystery is riveting, and there’s this creeping sense of dread that permeates every aspect of the story.
Though at the same time, this story doesn’t take itself too seriously and manages to be extremely entertaining, which worked so well for me. I’d compare the vibe to Grady Hendrix’ stories, in that it is slightly ridiculous yet it’s also still an absolute thrill ride from start to finish.
It’s no easy feat to successfully pull off comedy in a book, but for me the balance between the horror and the humour was perfectly struck here. I loved how the author used the hysterical inner monologue and dialogue to release some of the tension, while also never breaking the suspense.
And underneath the creepy ambiance, dark humour, and exhilarating plot, there is a kind of re-coming of age story that will tug at your heartstrings in the best way possible. The characters are all adults, yet the (re)discovery of sexuality and identity is extremely poignant, authentic, and heartfelt. Other heavy themes of child neglect, sexual and emotional abuse, obsession, legacy, and grief are also explored with so much care, which gives this story so much heart.
Maybe it’s because I am still fairly new to the horror genre, but this was truly one of the most refreshing and exciting stories I have read in a long while. There were maybe a couple of explicit sexual encounters that I bounced off of due to personal preference, but aside from that, this story is a pure masterpiece in my opinion.
The story is just so well-balanced and there truly isn’t a single lull in the pacing, which gives this book that delightful ‘just one more chapter’ feeling.
I would highly recommend The Erstwhile Tyler Kyle if you are looking for a quirky character-driven horror comedy that will seduce you with its hypnotising and poetic prose, riveting mystery, emotionally engaging character work, depraved dark humour, and delicious doses of repressed queer longing. I absolutely loved it!
Thank you to the author for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.