TRASHY TUESDAY: Prey by C. Terry Cline, JR. (1985)
Despite the cover, which looks like one of those Gothic horror novels of the 1970/80s involving possessed children, Prey is actually a mishmash of a small town police detective novel and psychological suspense.
C Terry Cline wrote in a variety of styles, ranging from straight horror, Damon and Death Knell, through to some very good crime novels, such as Quarry and Reaper. He also wrote one of the first serial killer thrillers to feature an intelligent, almost engaging killer, Missing Persons (1982).
In Prey, policeman Brad Taylor returns to Thomasville Georgia following the sudden death of his father, the widely respected local sheriff. His father died following a mysterious phone call and Brad is convinced by the local establishment to take over the position of local sheriff. Meanwhile a killer is on his way to Thomasville, seeking revenge on the Taylor family.
Prey opens promisingly with a brutal series of murders and uncertainty over what is driving the killer to come after the Taylor family. Cline does well in building up the initial suspense and mystery, but a sluggish middle section followed by an overdose of dubious psychological analysis weakens the tension and the conclusion fades away. In the end it becomes more of a psychological family drama, rather than a suspenseful thriller. The suspense is also ruined by the plot description on the back cover, which reveals aspects of the story that do not occur until nearly three quarters of the way in.
I enjoyed Cline’s Missing Persons, Quarry and Reaper,which were good tough crime novels of the period, but found Prey to be ultimately disappointing.
The creepy cover of Prey seems to place it in the realm of horror novels about possessed or tortured children that proliferated in the 1970s and 80s. It looks like the cover from a Leigh Nichols or V C Andrews novel and suggests that the publishers were uncertain how to package it. The dark cover with the blood red title and the faces of the frightened children reflected in the killer’s eye, is quite striking, but not really representative of the story, although there is a kidnapping element. In the end, the cover is a good example of a publisher trying to position a book within a popular sub-genre.
Overall, I would rate it a three out of five.