Death Instinct is Bentley Little's third novel, and was originally released under Little's pen name, Phillip Emmons. This novel is superb; it seems as if the horror genre in general was at its peak during the 1990s. If you want to feel horrified, shocked, grossed out, or (insert any other creepy adjective here), I'd suggest stocking up on horror novels by any author during this time period. I originally picked up Death Instinct after having read and enjoyed The Store by Bentley Little.
Wanna play naked horsie?Death Instinct opens with a disturbing prologue that offers us a glimpse into the childhood of the novel's heroine, Cathy. Throughout Cathy's pre-teen years, her older brother David includes her in his many perverted games, one of which involves forcing her to watch him play naked on a toy horse. The author lets on that Cathy is an innocent young girl being taken advantage of by her sinister older brother.
Chapter One takes place years later. Cathy is an adult taking care of her irritable father, who is handicapped due to a car accident that occurred years earlier. These days, Cathy leads a relatively quiet, simple life. She works at a local bookstore, doesn't date, and divides her time at home either cooking meals for her father or assuming the role of surrogate mom to a nice young boy who lives in her neighborhood named Jimmy.
The terrifying new neighborsIn 2013, the diagnostic term "mentally retarded" was retired in favor of "intellectually disabled," according to this article at Medscape. But considering Death Instinct was published in 1992, the author freely uses the term "retarded" when referring to the affected characters. For the sake of continuity in this book review, I'll also be using this terminology. I know how worked up the Internet gets when you use these terms, heaven forbid, but I felt that the author's use of "retard" and "retarded" were appropriate in this book, considering the retarded kid is an evil person. The concept definitely lends a disturbing air to the novel, that's for sure.
Katrina West and her retarded son Randy move into the vacant haunted house across the street from Cathy. In an effort to be friendly and neighborly, Cathy and Jimmy introduce themselves to Katrina, who reluctantly introduces them to her son, Randy. After they realize Randy is incredibly violent and isn't all there mentally, Cathy and Jimmy beat feet and vow never to come near the evil boy again.
Shortly after Katrina and Randy settle in, violent murders start taking place throughout the neighborhood. Animals and humans alike are being found mutilated and skinned, and a woman's body is found in the street, her spine broken. Cathy can't help but suspect that Randy is behind the murders.
Idiot savant, what's your talent?For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an idiot savant is a person who has a mental disability but exhibits brilliance in a specific, limited field such as music or math. After Cathy has a few more run-ins with Randy and Katrina, she suspects that Randy is an idiot savant with expertise in brutal killing. Or, is it possible that Cathy's perverted and deranged older brother David is back to mess with Cathy's head?
Craving violence and terror? Step right up!Death Instinct holds nothing back in the way of violence, gore, sex, entrails, torture, and anything else disturbing you can cook up in your imagination; it's all served up right here in this novel. There are no lulls, and I would definitely give Death Instinct 10 out of 10 stars. All the characters are believable, and as tame and innocently as Cathy is written, she's quite the impressive, honorable heroine.
Bentley Little throws a few red herrings into the story to keep you guessing until the end. Obviously, I won't list those here to save you from spoilers. But Death Instinct is well worth your time, especially if you love the horror genre. This book is extremely well-written, scary and horrifying, and a perfect fictional escape from the world around you. I'm extremely satisfied with Death Instinct, and would even rate it higher than Bentley Little's newer novels. I'm even considering keeping my copy of Death Instinct so I can loan it out at a future date when I actually make friends in real life who also enjoy reading horror novels.
Death Instinct renewed my interest in Bentley Little as an author, and now I'll be nabbing the rest of his backlist. Do you enjoy reading Bentley Little, and if so, what are your favorite horror novels written by him?