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Psychopomp and Circumstance

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It starts on Facebook—an update that Nell doesn’t remember making. It’s bad enough that she’s dying and none of her friends know. Now, she’s pretty sure she’s going crazy too. She sees the Sewercide Man everywhere she goes.

The bright, safe little town of is Bandon descending into darkness, dragging the inhabitants along for the ride. Death follows madness for those bound to the Sewercide Man’s will.

But the Sewercide Man is more than just a ghost or a monster. He is death without justice. He is destruction without remorse. He doesn’t have a plan.

He just wants to bring everyone home.

"A blend of gritty realism and dark supernatural, Psychopomp and Circumstance is Heathers meets It Follows, with a sprinkling of The Twilight Zone, all told with black humor, nihilist teen angst, and a buried need to be loved and accepted."—Richard Thomas, author of Tribulations

186 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2016

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Adrean Messmer

13 books21 followers

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Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews
Profile Image for Tammy.
815 reviews135 followers
June 27, 2016

The nitty-gritty: Despite the author's fluid writing style and evocative imagery, this story lacked a solid plot and sympathetic characters, and with its over-the-top violence, it just wasn't for me.

Every once in a while I try a new small publisher, and I’ve found some great ones by taking chances and stepping out of my comfort zone. For that reason, I decided to read Psychopomp and Circumstance from small publisher A Murder of Storytellers. I was impressed with the gorgeous cover and was in the mood to read some horror. And while I enjoyed some things about the book, overall this just didn't work for me. Messmer gets points for her writing skills and the creepy, atmospheric mood of her twisted, literary version of the slasher film, but the lack of a strong plot and the bizarre actions of the characters had me scratching my head in confusion for most of the story. In fact, it’s going to be very difficult to give you a story synopsis, but I’ll give it a shot.

The chapters alternate among a large cast of characters, high school grads who have grown up together in a small town and have yet to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives. There’s Nell, who has recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor; Kelly, whose family owns a mortuary; Ash, a blogger who might have a thing for Nell; Faye, Nell’s best friend who may or may not be dead; Carly, a weird girl whose father recently committed suicide; Zack, the popular party boy; Ethan, who gets off on watching horror/slasher films; and Chris, who is living in a junk-filled house and mourning the death of his father. Linking all these characters together is a creepy urban legend called the Sewercide Man, the ghost of a serial killer whose body was found by Kelly and Carly years ago. Nell keeps seeing the grinning man with sharp teeth who holds a beat-up umbrella, and she thinks her tumor may be causing her to hallucinate, but she’s not the only one who sees him.

After a party at Zack’s house, weird things start happening to each one of these characters, as the Sewercide Man seems to be intruding on everyone’s reality.

I want to start with the positives, because I do think Messmer is a very talented writer. Her imagery is wonderful, and I loved her vivid descriptions:

The distance between me and them is uncomfortably small. The lamps blink out, one by one, as the shadow passes over them. It devours the light. The sound of rain on the roof overtakes the music. It sounds like war drums. I turn and run, hearing them behind me, moving like an army.

And because this is horror, I was happy to find that the author has a talent for tone and infusing the story with a feeling of unease and dread. There’s no doubt that bad things are going to happen in this story, and the sense of impending doom leading up to the bad stuff is due to Messmer’s skillful writing.

But not even the best writing can make up for a story with little or no plot. Each chapter focuses on the actions and misadventures of two or three of the characters, and then the next chapter jumps to a different group. What this jumping around did was to isolate the characters from one another, resulting in an extremely fractured story. I found myself forgetting who was who and losing the thread of the very tenuous plot. If it weren’t for the Sewercide Man, who remains the big mystery for most of the story, I probably wouldn’t have finished this book.

And here’s where I have to warn squeamish readers about Psychopomp and Circumstance: if you are indeed squeamish when it comes to graphic violence, I would steer clear of this book. Just like slasher films, the scenes where the characters meet their horrific deaths are described in up-close detail, as if the camera were zooming in on the knife and slowing down for the benefit of violence junkies. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve read plenty of books with graphic violence and loved them, but those were tempered with emotional moments that gave the violence meaning, and filled with characters that I actually cared about. If I don’t have that emotional connection to a character, then the violence just seems tacked on and needless.

And that’s another problem I had with this story: I just didn’t care about anyone. None of the characters had any redeeming qualities, and when their inevitable end came—and it keeps on coming!—my reaction was “Seriously, he’s dead too??” instead of “Damn, I really liked that guy!” Sure, there are some characters that you feel sorry for—at first. Like Nell, who is dying. But then she tries to commit suicide (a running theme in this story in case you haven’t guessed) and I lost some respect for her. And Chris, who is literally sinking into despair in a house filled with junk, trying to come to terms with his dead father. And everyone calls him “Sissy Chrissy” so you immediately feel for him. And then there’s “Corpsy” Carly, who lost her virginity to Zack and wound up with a baby—no wait, I didn’t feel bad for her at all.  Each character has a sadder story than the last, and it just got more and more depressing the longer I read.

Do I need a happy ending every time I read a book? No, but if there isn’t some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, I just can’t find a reason to keep reading.

I also want to mention that the e-book I read was full of typos, which surprised me because I believe it was a finished copy. (At least it didn’t say anything about being an uncorrected proof.) Small publishers have it hard anyway, trying to get a foothold in the big, bad world of publishing, so I would think they’d want to present a polished product to help themselves along.

So as much as I love the genre, this book just wasn’t my type of horror, unfortunately. Reviewers on Goodreads seem to love it, though, so clearly there's an audience for Psychopomp and Circumstance. If you love slasher films and stories with endless buckets of blood and rotting corpses, then this could be just the story for you.

Big thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.This review originally appeared on Books, Bones & Buffy

Profile Image for Kimberly Hicks.
Author 1 book194 followers
August 10, 2020
What an interesting tale of horror, dark humor and idiosyncrasy all interwoven to make a weird story come to life. I love horror novels, although not all readers have the stomach for them! In fact, the scarier, weirder and crazier they are, the more I love 'em! Always have and always will. Not everyone has a knack for writing in this genre, but I have to say, Messmer definitely has the qualifying skills. Her detail is beyond descriptive, it's an experience--and one I'm sure her characters would have otherwise liked not to have gone through.

There's a weird man canvassing the neighborhood of where a group of friends live. They grew up with each other and have somehow managed to stay together through their young adult life. So, who is this man with the tanned skin, to some, and rotten flesh, to others, with the umbrella with exposed spikes without the material, using his skull cane to aid in helping him to walk? To Nell and Kelly he's better known as The Sewercide Man. Actually, he was referred to by the media as the Suicide Man, since his body had been found years prior abandoned and broken over the side of a cliff in which Nell and Kelly found his body with exposed umbrella spikes cutting through his body. Hmm, Nell had a speech problem and found it hard to say suicide, it came out sounding more like sewercide, which is how this ghostly fiend came to be known.

Nell is slowly dying of an incurable disease and she thinks her mind is playing awful tricks on her, but as she sees the Sewercide Man everywhere she goes, her friends are disappearing faster than her mind can process. Is this all a figment of her imagination or is someone out there shortening her friends' lives for no apparent reason, or, is there a reason?

What I loved about this story is that each chapter reads like a standalone. Almost as if the chapters were individual books and as you read each section, you learn something more about each of the characters and how they relate to the story. For me, the detail was spot on because whoever heard of a soft horror story? You want the story to be edgy and provide all the gore your mind can handle, and Messmer handles this with such ease and finesse, I was incredibly impressed.

Pscyhopomp and Circumstance is a very weird and dark read and this would be a great story to read during October. Would you believe I've read three great horror stories and none of them in the month of October. Damn, I wish these had come out then, but that's ok, because this book is out and on sale, and I think if you have an open mind and one ready to receive gore and detail, you'll love the hell out of this story. At least, I know I did. It was really different, and I love unique writers who offer you something different and not the same old thing. Messmer's voice is a breath of fresh air, or would that be the rotten stench of the Sewercide Man? Naah, most definitely fresh air! She's an awesome writer. (LOL!!)

The Sexy Nerd gives Pscyhopomp and Circumstance four stars. No worries, I feel Messmer's work will be around for a long time to come. She's not like other horror writers, and for that I applaud and say Bravo and well done! What a weird story that works! I love that.
Profile Image for Μιχάλης.
Author 20 books127 followers
December 3, 2018
For 90s horror fans

Sharp beautiful writing as a number of angsty young adults are experiencing weird, violent happenings in their small town.
The plot is thin and it works as a backdrop for the characters to do their thing.
There is some gruesome violence and gory imagery to please gorehounds.
Profile Image for A Voracious Reader (a.k.a. Carol).
1,943 reviews1 follower
September 3, 2016
*Book source ~ A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Nell finds some really weird status updates on her Facebook wall that she doesn’t remember writing. But there are other weird things happening around town, too. What the hell is going on?

This whole book had me perplexed. I wandered around the pages lost and confused like a redneck in a modern art museum. When I say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I truly mean it because I think this story just wasn’t for me, but I believe there are others who will think it’s fantastic. They’ll get it and appreciate it. They will name it George and they will hug it and pet it and squeeze it…wait. Let’s just say they’ll enjoy it and stop there. Psychopomp and Circumstance is a well-written, creepy, horror-filled psychological walk through the madness park. If horror is your thing then I recommend giving this one a go. Horror is just a side thing for me, so I think I miss some of the finer nuances. And now I’m starting to sound creepy. I’ll just go, ok?
Profile Image for Matthew Brockmeyer.
Author 16 books337 followers
May 8, 2017
Psychopomp and Circumstance is one gnarly and creepy-as-hell horror story that is guaranteed to make your skin crawl. It comes complete with its own boogeyman: The Sewarcide Man, the umbrella carrying ghost of a small town’s local serial killer. Somewhere within the text there seems to be an ode to the eighties slasher flicks it often references.

Messmer’s prose is intoxicating, at times lyrical and at others snarky and snide with the voice of the teenage narrators who make up the cast. Her language is descriptive and clear and she does a wonderful job of getting into the characters’ heads.

This is not a novel for everyone. It is incredibly bleak, devoid of even a single beam of hope or light. It is filled with graphic violence that escalates and escalates as the tale progresses. It doesn’t seem to follow the classic three act structure, nor does it have a central protagonist we follow along a narrative arc. Instead, it is composed of a collection of first person POV vignettes, each with their own distinct title, that show the narrators spiraling into madness and murder, each becoming a literal and figurative ghost of what they used to be.

All in all, Adrian Messmer’s Psychopom and Circumstance is a fun ride for those who like their horror grisly, disturbing, and dark as a midnight cave.

Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 1 book3 followers
November 8, 2017
The cover of this one caught my eye. Gorgeous and one of the reasons I bought the book. Written from multiple points of view, Pyschopomp and Circumstance is elegantly written and richly layered with startling metaphor. Messmer carefully and with calculation leads the reader into a dreamscape, or more accurately, a nightmare. One can never be sure what’s real. The story seems to slip in and out of dream and reality leaving me to consider the title and its direct connection to the book’s theme of death, the subconscious and the still evolving character of the recent high school graduate.

So many books written around this age group have weak internal dialogue, but Messmer is a skilled crafter of words making their worlds visual, visceral. Its only weakness, for me, was that I was unable to connect with the characters themselves. The dominant POV wasn’t really human. The most fully formed characters became tragic portraits not so detached from real life.

These young evolving characters are, in the end, overcome and consumed by their demons. Literally.

I’m not really a zombie fan, but the undertones were really on point. Like the rhizomes or fungal network of a forest, one thinks of how communities function for good or bad and that nothing operates in isolation, communicating and sharing their peculiar toxin. And the psychopomp? Even though he’s barely there... Terrifying!

This book is dark and very graphic and is best read in a few sittings to make sure you don’t lose the thread of each character. This is horror with a literary approach and a touch of post modern styling.
Profile Image for Carol Whetzel.
343 reviews2 followers
May 29, 2018
Great debut novel from this author. Solid characters that drew you in with the different POVs. Horror is not a genre I normally read, but the gore was minimal and I found this more of a psychological thriller. I like the fact that everyone had a secret...much like real life.
Profile Image for Carmen.
158 reviews6 followers
September 20, 2019
Opening disclaimer: The author is a friend of mine, though our friendship has in no way influenced this review (I even bought the book myself!)

This isn’t my usual genre, so I was a bit hesitant to try it, but I was intrigued enough to give it a go. Boy am I glad I did! I never thought I could love something with so much death, blood, and gruesome descriptions as I do this book. Even just writing that makes me wonder who’s taken control of my fingers, but no – it’s still me!

The writing in this is amazingly gorgeous and just downright poetic. Even on the first page I was quite literally staring wide-eyed in awe of the author’s abilities to make even the spookiest and most horrifying of situations come alive with such beauty. I’m legitimately envious!
The lovely fluidity of the writing plays a hugely massive part in the reason I loved this book so much. Often times I was so lost in the words that I didn’t realize what was going on until after it had happened. While that might seem like a bad thing on the surface, in my particular case it was a very good thing. Much like distracting a child so they won’t notice an immunization or otherwise pain and/or fear inflicting medical procedure, distracting me from horrifying scenarios is a very good idea!

Admittedly there were a lot of characters to keep track of, and there were a few times it got a teeny bit overwhelming, especially with the rotating POVs. But it also wasn’t too detrimental. A lot of the times the characters are interacting with each other in ways that helps keep track of them. Not always, but most of the time. I definitely didn’t need a flow chart, which is a major improvement on some other books I’ve read!

Speaking of the characters, I also enjoyed that they were each distinct, with their own personalities and such (which also helps with keeping track of who’s who – even if you can’t remember them by name, you can recall their personality). None of them were too similar to the others, but neither were they polar opposites; they all fit together and complimented each other very well. That said, I definitely still had my handful of favourites and my handful of hatreds, and very rarely did they switch sides. Rank, maybe (how much I loved/hated them), but never sides. I do like consistency :)

The plot in general isn’t like anything I’ve seen before (though, as I noted, this isn’t my usual genre), so that definitely helped me to love it as well. There was maybe once or twice I thought the events were maybe getting a little redundant, but it wasn’t a thought that lingered very long because it really didn’t matter – everything fit together well and flowed smoothly without feeling repetitive, slow, or dull. On that note, the pacing was also very well done – nowhere did it feel overly rushed or seem to drag.

I very very much look forward to reading more from this author!
Profile Image for Andrew.
131 reviews15 followers
May 6, 2016
This is not your everyday, run of the mill horror novel. It’s more than that, with an artistry and style to it that’s unusual in the genre. It’s really well encapsulated by the cover design. The cover looks how the book feels, if that makes sense. The book features an unsettling dreamlike tone throughout, and makes you question if you can trust what you’re seeing.

Our protagonist, Nell, is dying from an inoperable brain cancer. She begins seeing the Sewercide Man, the former local serial killer, whose body she found. He claimed twelve victims before taking his own life. Strange things begin happening to her friends. People begin to change and die as an evil propagates through the town. We follow a small group of teenagers who have recently finished high school and are at a crossroads in their lives in more ways than one.

The focus is very much on the characters and their interactions rather than on an overt killer. Their interrelated pasts and the spreading darkness cause difficulty in relationships and communication. Everyone is living with their own demons and it’s quite suffocating. People’s experiences weigh so heavily on them. Another suffocating aspect is the sense of decay and rot present, from Nell’s illness, to hoarding, to buildings in the town. The decay is as present as the darkness claiming them. The sense of fluidity the author has created in the town extends to gender and sexuality.

There is a really interesting and unusual structure with each chapter being told from a different point of view. You’re told at the start of each chapter whose viewpoint it is from. So you’re seeing interactions and relationships progressing in the story from all different angles. Not retreading the same events, but always moving the story forward chronologically.

There is really strong imagery with vivid descriptions throughout, including colors and sounds. Such descriptions even apply to nature, from the uneasiness generated by a description of worms to the foreboding weather. The author uses beautiful language.

The deaths are gruesome and impactful, with the first death especially shocking and unsettling. A pervasive uneasiness and darkness is in almost everyone. Each aspect of the book works in union to generate a wholly unsettling story. There is plenty of heavy content from bullying and sexual abuse to terminal illness. This is a book that’s going to stick with you as you read and requires some investment to get the most out of it.
Profile Image for Jessica Bronder.
2,014 reviews22 followers
July 29, 2016
This story is about several teenagers that have just graduated high school and don’t really know what they want to do with their lives. Nell is one of these kids that has been recently diagnosed with a brain tumor along with several others that have their own demons. But Nell keeps seeing the Sewercide man, this is the local serial killer that Nell discovered dead a couple years earlier. The Sewercide man seems to be everywhere Nell is and initially she thinks she is seeing him as a side effect of her tumor. Then people start end up dead in a gory kind of way. What is happening to the small town of Bandon?

This is an interesting story. It reminds me of the slasher films from the 90’s. Teenagers from different walks of life with their own personal demons that become the targets of a serial killer and meet their end with a bloody, violent death.

I’m sorry to say that I was expecting a little more of a story. I didn’t really relate or even care about these kids. They seemed self-absorbed and I was actually excited when they were killed. But I would have liked to know a little more about the Sewercide Man. He seemed like an interesting killer but when I know more about their background it tends to draw me into the story more.

If you like bloody, gory stories, if that is what you are looking for, look no further. This is the book for you. It was a good story and although not what I was expecting I did enjoy it.

I received Psychopomp and Circumstance for free from Sage’s Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nicole Harris.
227 reviews28 followers
July 20, 2016
It starts off with a mysterious Facebook post by Nell. She can’t recall writing it, nor does she even understand the reference to something called the Sewercide Man. She is quickly able to do some damage control before her friends see it and question her sanity. Nell proceeds to do what most of the newly graduated kids in the town of Bandon do, go party at Zack’s house. It seems that Nell and her group of friends (frienemies?) are the ones who have no clear plan on what path to take now that they no longer have high school to wake up for.

The Sewercide Man begins to make his presence known first to Nell through visions of his creepy crooked face and disheveled umbrella. As he makes his appearances more frequently, a virus-like wave of violent behavior takes over the town. We find out that the Sewercide Man is a deceased serial killer who terrorized Bandon many years before. His moniker made up by Nell’s friend, Kelly, as a child which she has uttered to no one. As you make your way through the novel, you get a point of view from several of the group and their run-ins with this sickness of murder, and what now seem to be somewhat cognizant zombie versions of their friends and other folks around town. We are left with our head spinning over who is really dead, who is going to make it, who is a disease induced hallucination?

Read full review on my blog: https://thebooktrovert.com/2016/07/12...
Profile Image for emily.
107 reviews
August 3, 2016
Psychopomp and Circumstance is about a young woman, Nell, who is going crazy, maybe literally. The town's long-forgotten serial killer, the Sewercide Man, is always where Nell is, always one step ahead. A strange Facebook post appeared on Nell's profile, and she is positive she didn't post it. Now the residents of Bandon are being brought into the craziness, this game, that the Sewercide Man had just created.

Psychopomp and Circumstance is creepy, gruesome and eerie. The perfect recipe for a horror novel. This book was like if A Nightmare on Elm Street and Stephen King had a child. Which made Psychopomp and Circumstance awesome. I always appreciate a well-written horror novel. Honestly, some parts gave me the chills.

Psychopomp and Circumstance has a great feel to it. My only problem was that I was a little confused by the P.O.V. change, but by halfway in I understood why it was there. All the characters had their issues. Sewercide Man created a literal Hell in Bandon. The Sewercide Man was creepy, like scary creepy. If I watched a horror movie based off the Sewercide Man, I wouldn't be able to sleep for weeks and I adore horror movies. Ms. Messmer did a wonderful job! I give Psychopomp and Circumstance four stars!
Profile Image for Bryan Cebulski.
Author 4 books38 followers
May 30, 2016
One of the best horror novels I've ever read, though not without its fair share of drawbacks. It's a riff on the Less Than Zero template, except more queer and with more interesting things going on. Complex characters slowly drifting into some abstract kind of corruption. Reminds me of Cronenberg's Shivers in that respect, but in atmosphere really it's much more like the recent It Follows. This book absolutely nails the uncanny. The narrative is ambiguous--intentionally but frustrating--arguably to a fault--there's not even a bit of satisfaction reached by the end of this book. While I'm not expecting anything to be wrapped up neatly or answered outright, it ended perhaps a bit too quickly for the reader to really get a handle on the style, really get to appreciate the weirdness of the setting.
Profile Image for Samantha Free.
7 reviews1 follower
July 3, 2016
Let me begin by saying I’m not usually a horror reader. I started to read Psychopomp and Circumstance initially because I know the author; however, it didn’t take long before I was pulled into the story. It actually had me up until 3 am reading which is not a claim many books in even my preferred genres have been able to make lately. Even knowing what was coming for some of the characters, I still found myself waiting anxiously to see how the events would unfold. I knew going in that I should expect to be creeped out, and I was. I also knew not to expect the Happily Ever After the books I typically read provide. Because of the genre, I expected the worse to happen for every character, yet I still caught myself rooting for them to triumph because of the complexity of their personalities. Even the ones who had blood on their hands, both literally and figuratively.
Profile Image for Samantha Free.
7 reviews1 follower
July 3, 2016
Let me begin by saying I’m not usually a horror reader. I started to read Psychopomp and Circumstance initially because I know the author; however, it didn’t take long before I was pulled into the story. It actually had me up until 3 am reading which is not a claim many books in even my preferred genres have been able to make lately. Even knowing what was coming for some of the characters, I still found myself waiting anxiously to see how the events would unfold. I knew going in that I should expect to be creeped out, and I was. I also knew not to expect the Happily Ever After the books I typically read provide. Because of the genre, I expected the worse to happen for every character, yet I still caught myself rooting for them to triumph because of the complexity of their personalities. Even the ones who had blood on their hands, both literally and figuratively.
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