I like horror stories when they aren’t really about monsters and gore. Fear is a powerful metaphor, and the best pieces of prose use it to tell stories that hold a mirror up to our real-world lives. Hunter Shea’s “We Are Always Watching” is a brilliant example of this, being as much about family conflict as it is about scares.
West and his family move back into his father’s childhood home - a rotting nightmare of a house, in the middle of nowhere. Tensions are instantly running high between West’s dad, Matt - who suffers from a chronic illness which means he can’t work - and his own father, a cantankerous drunk. And, soon enough, another staple of Matt’s childhood rears its ugly head - mysterious messages from an unseen force known as The Guardians…
The characters are well-written, especially West, our main protagonist. It’s so refreshing to read a teenage character who is just a decent kid - not a snarky smart-ass or an insufferable nerd. The relationship between his parents is realistic (part spiteful swiping, part total devotion), and Abraham is great as a totally horrible, grating asshole. He reminds me a lot of Rick from “Rick and Morty”, but even less likeable.
This book is brilliantly crafted, keeping you on your toes. There is no way of working out who, or what, the Guardians are for most of the novel (although on a second reading, you may have some questions about logistics that don’t get answers), and even once we know, the story throws other questions at the reader, making it impossible to become complacent in exactly who our heroes and villains are. Every plot point is driven further forward by the relationships between every member of the family, whether that be a positive or a negative one. If you’ve ever had a family member you just couldn’t stand, but had to be around for one reason or another, this book will speak volumes to you.
The pace is great, although in the last chapter events to hurtle quite quickly towards their resolution - but even this quick-fire of events got a gasp of genuine shock from me at one point. For the most part, I wasn’t reading this as a reviewer, picking out plot points and themes to write about - I was a horror fan, reading a damn good book. And I don’t think you can give “We Are Always Watching” higher praise than that.