The Clearing of Travis Coble by Jonathan Janz

The Clearing of Travis Coble by Jonathan Janz
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Horror, Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Short Story (25 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Travis Coble didn’t kill and eat his family. At least that’s what a jury decided twenty years ago. But like Lizzie Borden, Travis Coble was branded guilty by an angry public and consigned to a life of suspicious whispers and sidelong stares. Now, Professor Dick Myers wants to clear Travis’s name once and for all. An interview with the reclusive mountain man would not only bring Myers fame—it could save his job.

But Myers will find more than a good story in Coble’s isolated shack in the Smoky Mountains. He will find the truth about what happened twenty years ago…and the true meaning of horror.

Are gut instincts always trustworthy? Is it better to listen to them and take a chance at being wrong or ignore them and risk something you won’t realize you’ve surrendered until it’s gone?

Dick honestly believes he’s an objective reporter and all-around nice guy but the truth behind these assumptions is about to be sorely tested. As I read this book I changed my mind about this guy several times. In the beginning I admired his personality and character but as his social prejudices began to emerge I wondered how someone so intelligent and well-educated could know virtually nothing about other cultures in his own country. To be fair to him, though, Dick’s lack of knowledge is due to what I can only assume was a lack of opportunity to befriend people from rural backgrounds rather than a conscious attempt to ignore them.

I was never sure why Dick would travel to such a remote location without bringing along a cell phone. While reception can be spotty in rural locations wouldn’t it be better to bring the phone along and have a chance of contacting the outside world than to leave it at home and hope for the best? Mr. Janz’s stereotypical characterization of certain groups was also disappointing. The tropes he relied up to build tension in the plot are so well-known in the horror genre that I half-expected him to surprise the audience by subverting them. When that didn’t happen it was difficult for me to maintain interest in those characters.

Mr. Janz definitely knows how to tease an audience. While in retrospect there were several well-placed clues in the first few scenes I genuinely expected this story to produce a different ending than the one we were given. It was deliciously easy to misinterpret what was actually happening and while I would have strongly preferred to see less stereotypical treatment of certain characters the author maintained a consistently frightening atmosphere from the beginning to the end of this tale. By the final scene I had to remind myself to keep breathing as I uncovered the final mystery.

The Clearing of Travis Coble is gut-wrenching, politically incorrect horror. It’s a good choice for readers in the mood for a truly frightening story that works best when taken at face value.

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