This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
The Waking Dark gets off to an amazing, horror-filled start. A few people in the small town of Oleander, Kansas inexplicably murder their friends and neighbors one day. Only one of the murderers survives, and she has no memory of her crime. The way-out-of-his-league police chief described it thus: "A lot of people had a bad day."
While the town is still recovering, a devastating tornado rips right through the middle of it.
The sights described are horribly graphic: aside from the destroyed buildings, the violence of the tornado pulled bodies up from the grave, and one is now hanging in a tree. While burying the dead and cleaning up the town, the remaining residents realize they have something perhaps even more frightening to deal with - the military has blocked off and quarantined the entire town. Phone service and internet have been cut off. The soldiers' presence might be understandable if they were actually IN the town, helping to clean up and restore order. Instead, they remain at the town's borders, ensuring no one can get in or out. Their presence adds to the paranoia of the residents, and they aren't answering questions. The just-a-tad-out-there deacon believes that the devastation is a gift from God, sealing them off from the perils of the outside world.
Oleander soon falls victim to a vigilante style of justice, led by the school's sociopathic quarterback. Residents believed to be dissidents are rounded up and thrown in prisons. A horrific execution takes place in the middle of town, immediately following a sad excuse for a trial.
There are some decent people left, but until the cause of the bizarre murders is discovered, they are basically helpless. Oleander is now filled with bad people doing awful things, good people doing awful things, a few good people doing good things, and one bad person who attempts to make things right.
The violence is brutal and unrelenting. Our little group of heroes is constantly in peril as they seek answers. Is the violence that continues in the town a result of a lack of real law enforcement and a lack of accountability, or is the quarantine a sign of a more sinister answer? The answer is pretty obvious, but that doesn't detract from the horror of the story. Wasserman is not afraid of violence, and knowing that all of her characters are in peril keeps the action in The Waking Dark exciting and tense until the last page.
Note - I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.