Title: The Toll
Author: Cherie Priest
From Cherie Priest, the author of The Family Plot and Maplecroft, comes The Toll, a tense, dark, and scary treat for modern fans of the traditionally strange and macabre.
State Road 177 runs along the Suwannee River, between Fargo, Georgia, and the Okefenokee Swamp. Drive that route from east to west, and you’ll cross six bridges. Take it from west to east, and you might find seven.
But you’d better hope not.
Titus and Melanie Bell leave their hotel in Fargo for a second honeymoon canoeing the Okefenokee Swamp. But shortly before they reach their destination, they draw up to a halt at the edge of a rickety bridge with old stone pilings, with room for only one car . . .
When, much later, a tow-truck arrives, the driver finds Titus lying in the middle of the road, but Melanie is nowhere to be found.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up. It was my first time reading horror, so I wasn’t sure if I’d actually get scared. When it comes to horror, it’s visuals that really get me, so reading it was an entirely different experience. To be honest, I wouldn’t consider this horror, so a docked a star for not getting scared. The only part that was vaguely creepy didn’t even involve the main monster, but an abandoned building with a bunch of dolls that never come up again. It felt more like an urban fantasy, so that’s how I decided to judge it.
The Toll reads like a movie that follows two storylines side-by-side until they intersect at the end, which is exactly what happens with the two protagonists, Titus and Cameron. However, some parts were a little bit repetitive, especially Cameron’s obsession with an older woman that made him a bit unlikable. Granted, he’s just a teenager who’s never been around other teenagers, but still. But maybe that’s just testament to the writer’s skill, since we’re not really supposed to root for that attempt at romance to succeed. Overall, though, it was a quick read with pretty good description. Trying to picture the monster was a bit difficult, though, but a part of me thinks that was intentional. The characters themselves had a hard time confronting what they were seeing and processing it, so it makes sense that some of the confusion might come through to the reader.
As an urban fantasy set in a swamp and creepy town, it’s pretty entertaining. The mythos is just loose and vague enough that you don’t get bogged down in the details and just let yourself be taken along for the ride. It’s an interesting place, Staywater, and I’d be willing to read more about it. Maybe find out why ghosts linger there and how the monster came to be in the first place – because that’s something that is only vaguely alluded to and mentioned as throwaway conversation. All in all, a fun read.