Tome by Ross Jeffery - a book review
Tome, the stunning Bram-Stoker-Award nominated debut novel from Ross Jeffery, is the author’s attempt to solidify his own personal beliefs and social commentary into a fictional free-flowing, and ongoing form – the world that consists of Juniper. It is the culmination of his gathering together of all the elements that have an influence against his moral compass - social prejudice, racism, sexism, evil incarnate – the type of thing that all make great horror fodder. The difference between this and your average horror book is Ross’ voice, and his own moral compass planting the reader firmly with the belief that evil can be overcome if one happens to care enough to take action. And THAT is the first thing that makes the book work so well – the reader believes it as well.
It’s ironically one of the last things you notice in the book because there are so many other elements at play here. So let’s break it down.
The first thing you are impressed by has to be Ross’ voice, or rather, that of his characters. Voice dominates everything here (a note to which is included as an author note at the end of the book, which ironically picks up on the exact points I included in my own note), with the characters openly racist and bigoted. Within the environment of a prison, Ross plays to our expectations, every kind of scum is represented in the prison – Juniper Correctional (ironically abbreviated to JC, another of Ross’ influences), so the setting is as dark as one can get.
There are a lot of influences at play here, it becomes this wonderful easter egg hunt as soon as one realizes that Tome tips its hat to its predecessors and influences – quite obviously King’s “Rita Hayworth and (#1) Shawshank redemption” (and it’s film variant) and also his “Green Mile”, you can’t avoid the comparison, both in setting, characters, and craft. the characters are there in new clothes, Stanley - Ross’ “Brooks the librarian” is more active, the sisters are there, the corrupt warden, a good jailer (green mile), but Jefferies reimagines them into his own alternate version of the whole, and gives them distinct enough voices that the comparisons become a loved background to the new, darker story playing over them, a tale of possession and evil – but we’ll get to that.
(#1 – hands up every nerd like me that insists a “the” is missing there.)
Ross plays homage to his tribe, with author name or book name drops that are well placed and keep you looking for more. I had to wonder if Cynthia was a name drop or coincidence, one day perhaps I’ll find out. Ross also makes references to characters and situations in his previous book, “Juniper”, tying the novel firmly into his world.
The violence, when it arrives, is brutal and satisfying, raw, sudden, unflinching. It is exactly how violence should be done, at times left to our imaginations (the cell scene with Dolores is a high point), other times an “in your face” full frontal gore (as is the opening chapter).
Tome also deals with paranormal horror, which I won’t go into in too much detail about because, well, it’s the point of the book, and here I have to say, that although the writing was well done, I wasn’t as immersed in it as I was between the relationship and activities of the antagonists within the prison. Perhaps it is because I am more repulsed by open racism and aggression than I am of a shadowy something restraining someone, the real-life horror hits a lot harder than the unknown. And that’s as it should be, given that the unknown horror influences that real-life horror. The inner monologue of the warden as he gives a hitchhiker a lift was just wonderful, psychological horror. Exactly the kind of thing you don’t want to be reading as you are about to sleep. My rough night last night I will attribute to Cynthia and the window.
Ross brings the novel to its inevitable conclusion and leaves the ending open for the next book in the series, which we will all be buying. If I’m correct, we will be leaving JC for the wider world of Juniper, but I hope for new glimpses of it in future books.
This is a great book, the flow is exemplary, Ross has spent time developing his characters and researching linguistics to bring them to life, and it shows. I loved the madness of Juniper. I loved the ingrained human depravity of Tome.
5 out of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
What you got up next for us, Ross? Good luck with the BSA.
Ross Jeffery's website: https://rossjeffery.carrd.co/