A Gathering of Evil by Gil Valle REVIEW

Bruce and Marilyn Keller are a seemingly average and well-off married couple from Upstate New York. What sets them apart from other people like them is their sadistic fetish for seeing women brutalized. They had even met online through a forum dedicated to dark fetishes such as that. But roleplaying isn’t enough for them anymore. They want to play out their fantasies for real.

With the help of several other like-minded people they find online, they set their sights on New York City residents Sarah McConnell and Jennifer Miller as their victims.

“The number of people in the United States who are aroused by unusual and deviant sexual fantasies is much higher than the average person would guess. Most people are completely unaware of this and many others would rather choose not to believe it. With the explosion of the Internet came message boards and websites that cater to people with some of these interests. Some of the websites involve dark and violent fantasies and it was on one of those sites where Bruce and a female user began messaging each other about theirs. As it turned out, both had fantasies about committing brutal acts of violence on women.”

In 2012, while working as a police officer in New York City, Gil Valle was arrested on charges of conspiracy to kidnap, rape, murder, and cannibalize several women based on online roleplay chats he had taken part in. After being dragged through the legal system, Valle was acquitted on all charges. After he told his story in his memoir, Raw Deal, he realized he enjoyed writing enough to move on to writing a novel. And given that his fantasy roleplays were able to convince federal investigators he really was going to kidnap women for sadistic purposes, a horror novel about just that was what he decided to write.

A Gathering of Evil doesn’t hold back on the torture and blood. This novel is solidly in the sub-genre of “extreme horror,” where other horror authors like Richard Laymon, Edward Lee, and Jack Ketchum also fit in. Some may find this off-putting, given Valle’s background, but I find no reason why this should make this book worse than any other in the same genre. Why should Valle be condemned while Laymon, Lee, Ketchum, or almost any horror author are praised for tackling a similar subject matter?

Valle’s abilities as a storyteller shine through. The way the Bruce and Marilyn go about arranging the kidnapping of Sarah and Jennifer is very believable, as are their interactions with each other and their co-conspirators. The way they discuss abducting and torturing these girls as if it was just an everyday business venture is just as disquieting as the torture scenes. Occasionally, they make self-justifying excuses, but for the most part, they coldly go about trying to fulfill their fantasies.

Sarah and Jennifer spend most of the book unaware that they’re being being stalked. We see their everyday life, their interactions with their families, and their jobs. These parts of the book read almost like something out of a different, much lighter novel, which works very well. Valle builds them up as likable characters who we don’t want to see horrible things happen to. It makes it all the worse when horrible things happen to them anyway.

My biggest complaint is that ending is very anticlimactic. I’m avoiding spoilers, but while the book does get incredibly nasty at the end, I got to the last page thinking “that’s it?” It ends up feeling like the first half of a longer book. Hopefully, the sequel Valle announced will improve on this.

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Despite its flaws, A Gathering of Evil shows Gil Valle to be a talented writer. It's a well-crafted story with characters who are incredibly convincing in the best and worst ways. The book is certainly not for the faint of heart, but for anyone who wants a deeply disturbing horror novel, this is well-worth picking up. Personally, I look forward to what Valle releases in the future. Review copy provided