Back in the ancient days of 2013, I came across a book called Dead (A Lot), from an unknown (to me) writer and playwright named Howard Odentz. This was during the salad days of AMC’s adaptation of The Walking Dead, so everyone who was anyone was writing about zombies, and a lot of the stories in the undead zeitgeist were cut from that pattern. That’s not to suggest they were all boring and derivative, but there just weren’t many that were interesting. I was skeptical.
With Dead (A Lot), though, Odentz managed to produce something clever and unique, a zombie story unlike any I’d ever read. Since then, I’ve done my best to keep up with him and his creepy stories and books. He’s released additional spooky installments in the Dead (A Lot) series, along with the collection of shorts Little Killers A to Z, and other novels, including What We Kill and Bloody Bloody Apple.
Odentz’s latest novel, Bottle Toss, is a more than worthy addition to the catalog. The story is told by Denny Ford, a teen who’s been bounced around in the foster care system. One night, Denny and his sort-of foster sister Jen and her load of a boyfriend Brody are out smoking and drinking when Brody throws a beer bottle at a passing car. Teenagers, right? Sure, but this seemingly random incident sets in motion a series of weird events I could never have imagined, and I can imagine a lot.
Like other talented horror and thriller writers, Odentz has a knack for repurposing the commonplace and turning it against the reader. With Bottle Toss, he begins with a seemingly normal protagonist–a young boy who’s suffered at the hands of an unfeeling foster care system, moving from one bad home environment to another–and places him in a bizarre and increasingly terrifying chain of events. Yes, Denny is concerned about his sister Jen, younger foster brother Arnie, and stepmom Mona. But he’s equally worried about the legendary figure of The Goaty Man who may just be lurking in the tree outside the window, not to mention that scratching sound he keeps hearing. And then there’s the weird guy who only walks his dog in the middle of the night.
One of the most impressive things about Odentz’s stories and novels is the way he often employs first-person narration and brief chapters to keep the story moving and the reader engaged. That said, he isn’t afraid to let the story pay out slowly, wisely using that time to up the horror ante. The story flows smoothly, the pages practically turn themselves, and before you know it, you’ve read an entire scary book in one sitting. Bottle Toss is a slow burn that’s absolutely worth the time.
The bottom line: You may think you know where Bottle Toss is going, but you’re wrong. And that’s a good thing.
You can find Bottle Toss and Howard Odentz’s other books at Amazon.