Reviewed by Timothy Thomas
A gripping horror novel that puts a new spin on a familiar concept
“Nature is healing itself.” The words of many observers who saw wildlife return to places that modern civilization had largely cast out in the midst of lockdown reassert themselves here.
More recently, summer blockbuster Jurassic World: Dominion gave us a hint of what happens when prehistoric wildlife interacts with the modern world, but XOLO dares to ask a more intimate question: what happens when man’s best friend becomes his biggest enemy?
From the moment I began reading XOLO, I was enthralled. Though personal responsibilities vying for attention muscled their way to the foreground, my mind tugged toward this book with the fervor of a wild dog against a leash.
XOLO follows family man Derek Rains, a real estate developer, whose life changes when he is gifted a dog by a potential business partner (Hector) while on a prospective business trip in Mexico. Neither Derek or Hector are aware that the dog, a Xolo (also known as a Mexican hairless dog), has ancient powers, and they are unleashed on the community of Sylvan Springs when, embittered against Derek for casting him out of his home, it seeks revenge.
As vicious animal killings see an unprecedented rise, Sheriff Garth Chambers enlists Derek, who he suspects of being responsible, and Heloise Lopez, the head of the animal control division, to put an end to the mystery and the deaths.
So, basically, animal(s) turned evil, right? Wreaking havoc on a town of people clueless as to its cause? Conceptually, this story is not breaking new ground. However, its approach to the formula adds plenty of novelty, while author Peter Hurd’s rhetorical dexterity makes for a delightfully engaging read. No character comes across as underdeveloped, even those in minor roles, because Hurd’s narration seamlessly fills you in on background, building the world skillfully as he does so.
The thoughts of the characters are effortlessly conveyed, and their reactions to the events of the story are mostly natural, the exception being the overabundance of laugh-to-keep-from-crying moments toward the end of the book, where a character in extreme danger or barely escaping it smiles or laughs even though they’re still in the midst of danger. That aside, the care with which every detail of every scene is approached makes each of the numerous plot-lines feel complete and satisfying.
As a horror novel, XOLO is replete with gory descriptions, atmosphere-shifting sequences, and well-developed characters that make you care what happens to them, thereby doing its genre justice. I would recommend this book to its audience. Even the most casual fans of horror are likely to find something to appreciate in XOLO. With the ending leaving open the possibility of more storytelling to be done in Sylvan Springs, I look forward to revisiting it in the future.
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