When I told my two older children that I was reviewing the latest novel by Darren Dash, known to them and other fans of teenage horror/fantasy as Darren Shan, I found myself raised, for a brief but genuine moment, in their estimation. I won’t say that they were enthused exactly – responding with enthusiasm to anything a parent says seems to be against the rules at that age – but they both looked mildly interested, and my son said “Oh really?” (I will point out that a response like that from an adolescent or near-adolescent is the equivalent of cheering and shouting “Yippee” at any other age). My daughter asked if she could read the book. I said “No.”
When I told them that my review of the previous Darren Dash book, The Evil and the Pure, was quoted on the back of the paperback edition, they looked surprised and one of them said “Cool” (The adolescent equivalent of jumping up and down in a public place waving a banner). When I showed them a screengrab of my quote on the back of that book as evidence, they clearly decided that I was trying too hard and went back to staring at different-sized screens. Screens, of any size, are more interesting than parents.
Sunburn is very different from The Evil and the Pure, but no less absorbing. A horror novel in a more traditional mold, it uses a number of familiar ingredients: a lake, a dark Eastern European forest, a fairy tale cottage, a monster, and recasts them into a contemporary story about a couple’s relationship problems.
Dysfunctional human relationships are an ideal launchpad for horror, and from the moment Dominic and his girlfriend, Martini, embark on an ill-conceived trip to Bulgaria, accompanied by Dominic’s dissolute friend, Curran, it is clear that they are heading into disaster. Darren Dash builds up the suspense with skillful pacing and a healthy dose of literary restraint, wisely refraining from indulging in the most horrific and grotesque elements of the plot until the reader has become invested in the characters.
The result is a horror novel that is suspenseful, fun to read, and at times, very gruesome indeed. It also contains some very good reasons for never forgetting to wear sunscreen.