Ghostland by Duncan Ralston, Narrated by Joe Hempel

Duncan Ralston’s Ghostland seamlessly blends elements of 13 Ghosts (or the more high-tech remake, Thirteen Ghosts), Jurassic Park, and The Matrix into a thrill ride of a story. Thankfully, it’s marginally less exciting than the Ghostland attraction itself. Otherwise, Ralston would be responsible for a lot of carnage.
Something Ben Laramie catches a glimpse of when he witnesses his favorite author’s house inexplicably transported through town is enough to stop the young boy’s heart. It can’t possibly be Rex Garrote standing in the window and seemingly staring back at him because Rex Garrote has been dead longer than Ben’s been alive. But as the world will learn over the following years, death isn’t quite the conclusion most people believe.
On the opening day of the Ghostland theme park, Ben manages to recruit his former best friend Lillian and her therapist to join him as he enters the park on a mission they know nothing of. Since his heart attack, Ben has set his sights on one objective, and it’s one he’s willing to sacrifice himself to accomplish.
What starts as a coming-of-age reflection on mortality rapidly transforms into a harrowing and violent struggle for survival amid the exploration of the most haunted places in the world all in one place. Ralston paces everything perfectly, never wasting a beat as he drags us along with Ben and Lillian through a gauntlet that only the luckiest can hope to escape. As he leads us to a conclusion that is both satisfying and open-ended for the sequels, the author displays keen storytelling instincts that should impress anyone daring enough to enter Ghostland.
Joe Hempel is always a thoroughly competent and capable narrator, and his performance for the Ghostland audiobook is no exception.

Come With Me by Ronald Malfi, Narrated by Joe Hempel

When Allison Decker is shot and killed in a senseless act of violence, her husband’s life is irrevocably changed. But the true extent of his life’s transformations doesn’t begin until he discovers something seemingly innocuous in a box of his wife’s belongings from work. A receipt from a motel in a small town he’d never heard of, from a trip he didn’t know Allison had taken, is all it takes to send Aaron down a path he’d never have imagined possible.
Worried that his wife might have been cheating on him, Aaron begins unraveling the threads of a double-life Allison was leading, and infidelity might have been a relief. Instead, Aaron finds himself stumbling along in the footsteps of the woman he’d married but hardly knew. The truth of Allison’s activities will uncover lies and horrors Aaron could never be prepared to face as he stubbornly and desperately struggles to understand the woman he loved and lost. In the end, we’re forced–along with Aaron–to acknowledge that we might indeed be guilty of haunting ourselves.
Malfi crafts a well-orchestrated mystery that leaves the reader guessing right up until the conclusion. As we join Aaron Decker on his journey of discovery, we’re left reeling with each new revelation alongside the protagonist, forced to question how well we ever know someone and how dark the depths of one’s character might be.
Joe Hempel’s narration of the audiobook is superb, and he captures the confusion, fear, and frustration Aaron feels as he persists in his fool’s quest to solve a mystery Allison may have already solved before she was tragically unable to fulfill her life’s mission.

Eight Cylinders by Jason Parent, narrated by Joe Hempel

Jason Parent’s Eight Cylinders captures a sort of grindhouse action/horror vibe that I appreciated a great deal. We’ve got a story about crime, cars, creatures, confusion, and condemnation in the middle of the desert…and if that doesn’t appeal to you at least a little bit, there’s probably something wrong with you.
Comparing it to movies and other visual mediums, as I usually do, it’s a little bit Tremors, a touch of From Dusk Till Dawn, a good bit The Road Warrior, and a dash of the old show The Prisoner (or maybe, for those who never watched that one, Lost). If you were to toss all of that into a blender and add a splash of cosmic horror, you’d end up with something along the lines of Eight Cylinders.
This story had me invested as soon as Seb began using a novelty Magic Eight Ball glass eye to make his decisions for him as he sped away from Vegas after a deal gone exceedingly bad. Criminal and “bad guy” that he might be, Seb is particularly relatable as a protagonist, and you can’t help but cheer him on as he races through the desert multiple times throughout this short tale. The attention to detail concerning cars, trucks, and ATVs through the narrative gives one the impression that Parent is a bit of a gearhead at heart, or certainly one who spent some quality time researching this tale with gearheads…and that comes through clearly with Seb’s absolute love for his Dodge Charger and his appreciation of other vehicles in the narrative.
Joe Hempel’s narration is excellent, and I’ll surely be watching for other titles he’s provided his voice talents to.
My sole complaint about this story is that it felt a little rushed at times like we were racing from one point to another without getting enough time to really experience where we were.