Book Review – THIS TOWN DIED WITH YOU by A.J. Spencer

Review by Jolly Goat

This is mostly a non-spoiler review but I will be discussing a couple of details in the story. Without context, I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anything too much but if you want to completely avoid the risk then just come back to this review after you’ve read the book.

Slacker friends Justin and Angus have been stuck in the same town their whole lives. Justin plans to get away from it all while Angus suddenly becomes the new caretaker of the local cemetery. After Angus convinces Justin to come to explore the abandoned crematorium with him, they end up getting trapped overnight by an evil force, along with a mysterious stranger and a trio of amateur paranormal investigators. What starts as a thrilling adventure becomes a fight for their lives. Will they survive the night, or will the town Justin never left become the last place he ever sees?

I love novellas! When I settle in with a book, I like to read the whole thing in one go. I think stories are most effective when they’re consumed in their entirety – obviously, this isn’t always possible, depending on the length of the book, but that’s the perk of novellas and short stories.

I knew I’d enjoy this from the first line – “Justin lay in the darkness of his hangover-induced grave.” I flew through the story. It’s quick and short and perfect for a spooky afternoon read, especially now that we’re entering the season of shorter and darker days.

The story is sort of standard for its genre – and that’s by no means a negative. All of us at Happy Goat Horror, for example, read what would probably be considered an unhealthy amount of zombie fiction. It’s not that often that anyone does anything super original with zombies, but that’s cool – as long as the plot is good and it moves along at a decent pace. What we have with THIS TOWN DIED WITH YOU is your classic haunting/demonic activity tale. It has a creepy setting, a host of trapped characters, and most importantly, scary things that lurk in the dark and become bolder and scarier as the story goes on.

I suppose I do have a couple of niggling gripes and the main one really is just about the characters. I care a lot more about character than plot and this book would have been elevated for me if the characters were deeper. I thought they were a little underdeveloped and there were a few missed opportunities.

For example, there’s a scene in which a character gets possessed, and we read this through the perspectives of the other characters. I would have loved it if instead, we’d been in the possessed character’s mind as she watched herself perform heinous acts whilst being powerless to stop.

There were a couple of times where I questioned the motivations of the people I was reading about because they were making stupid decisions, like that old classic, “let’s split up!” Additionally, the group of investigators, who consider themselves blooming experts in supernatural matters, are able to pull off exceptional paranormal feats like astral projection, despite never attempting them before. I think that perhaps this was just a case of the author sacrificing realistic character details in the name of keeping the plot moving, because most of the time when somone did something that felt a bit out of left field, it was for plot convenience. Spencer clearly thought a lot about the plot so I think if they put the same effort into mapping out the characters, it would really elevate the story-telling, and make for an even more enjoyable reading experience.

The only other criticism I have is about set-up and pay-off, in that there were times where set-up wasn’t really implemented. There are a couple of instances in which an important detail is mentioned but only at the exact moment that it becomes relevant, which comes across as plot convenience rather than things just naturally coming into play. I think every writer, upon reading their own first draft of a story, realise that they’ve committed this crime all over the place, but it can be fixed if you just start slotting things in earlier during the redrafting process. Again, just a little adjustment in writing technique would really improve Spencer’s storytelling. Funnily enough, the title of the book is actually genius, so I know Spencer has this skill in him. I just wanted to see it utilised a bit more in the body of the work.

That being said, Spencer isn’t by any means a bad writer! I love reading books by authors who don’t have an enormous amount of experience, but clearly have the talent and potential to exponentially develop their skills.

There are some wonderful descriptions throughout that were delicious to read, such as –

“Its breath filled the entire room with a hot desert wind.”

That one gave me chills. I love it when one line changes the way you see and feel a setting. I not only had an image but a sense of temperature and smells when I read that. Spencer does have numerous short stories out in the wild, but as far as solo releases, I’d still class him as new-ish. I’m really excited to follow Spencer’s writing career because if this is the kind of writing that he’s pulling off in the early days, just imagine what he’ll be coming up with in two, five, ten years from now.

I also enjoyed the overall tone and atmosphere of this story, especially when a little humour was injected here and there. A couple of times, I made the note that it reminded me a little of the “Ghostfacers” episodes of Supernatural. I LOVE Supernatural.

I’d recommend this novella to people who are looking for a nice, short, spooky read on a dark autumn evening.

If you’d like to get yourself a copy, you can find it here:


If you’d like to learn more about A.J. Spencer and his other works, you can find him on social media and on goodreads.

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