The Ruins by Scott Smith, Narrated by Patrick Wilson

Scott Smith pulls no punches with The Ruins, delivering an increasingly disorienting barrage of horrors until the reader arrives at what can be the only conclusion this story could have. There will be no ersatz happy ending shoehorned into the tale Smith shares with the progressively uncomfortable reader. I must rip that bandage off right away. The Ruins is a horror story that mingles body horror with the terror of isolation and the unknowable.
While on vacation in Mexico, two couples befriend a German tourist who was on a holiday of his own with his brother. When Mathias’s brother doesn’t return from an archaeological dig he’d ventured off on, the two couples and another tourist–one of a trio of Greeks who speak no English–join Mathias in his search. The journey takes them deep into the jungle of the Yucatan, far from the beaches and resorts crowded with revelers.
Following a crudely drawn map, the group manages to find themselves approaching a vine-covered hill where Mayan locals accost them for unknown reasons, though seemingly attempting to keep the tourists from venturing any closer to the mound across the clearing. When one of the tourists backs into the vines while trying to capture a photo of the language barrier-hampered exchange taking place, the Mayans’ attempt to keep the six of them from approaching the hill transforms into a merciless bid to keep the tourists from venturing back across the clearing.
As misfortune and decreasing odds of survival strain the group’s optimism and belief they’ll walk away from this misadventure unscathed, it gradually becomes clear that they’re facing something insidious and terrifying that defies comprehension. Discovering the truth behind the Mayans’ desperate need to keep the six of them confined where they are, threatens to push the group of friends and acquaintances beyond the limits of what they can endure.
Scott Smith does an excellent job of balancing the threats, making the experience feel as claustrophobic and intense as he can without placing the reader in similar circumstances. Between the Mayans patrolling the perimeter of the hill, the diminishing supplies, the environment itself, and the terrifying life inhabiting the mound, it’s always up in the air which hazard will prove to be the deadliest.
Patrick Wilson’s narration is both professional and competent, effectively differentiating the characters and articulating the narrative. He also successfully tackles Mathias’s accent and aloof character without dropping the ball.


Off Season by Jack Ketchum: Narrated by Richard Davidson

I was a teenager when I first read Jack Ketchum’s Off Season in an already used paperback edition I’d found in a second-hand store or at a flea market. At the time, the book seemed truly graphic and bleak in a way most horror novels didn’t approach. Of course, most of my reading up to that point had been Stephen King, Peter Straub, Robert R. McCammon, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, and other more commercially accessible authors. Of those authors, Barker and McCammon were the two who most closely approached what I was reading from Ketchum.
If I enjoyed the bleak and hopeless tone of that edition of the book, I was sure to be in for a treat with the less censored edition released this century.
A good deal of the change to this story only arises in the final stretch of the story, but those relatively minor changes in terms of text produce massive changes in the outcome of the narrative. Listening to this audiobook edition of the novel, I understand why Ketchum was dissatisfied with the edits his publisher demanded. This was a story that pulled no punches and held nothing back, laying bare the callous inhumanity of the world we live in and the indifference of the universe itself.
A tragic hero becomes altogether more tragic in this edition of Off Season, and the story benefits from that transformation.
Those who read the original edition of this book may have wondered just how much worse a vacation to Northern Maine could have gone in the fall of 1981. Ketchum answers that question in this restored iteration of the tale. As the vacationers in the cabin are beset by the wild, raving tribe of barely human cannibals, you might notice some scenes that carry a bit more potency and illustrative violenceā€¦but the core of the story remains the same until you reach the end.
Richard Davidson’s narration is great, though there are times when it seems as if the Maine accents are a bit more of a caricature. It makes for an enjoyable listen just the same.