Teenagers have always had a sense of invincibility, going on adventures that would make their adult selves squirm. This premise is explored in Scott LeFebvre’s Condemned. In the story, Jason, Jack, Dani and Nathan have the gear to be genuine ghost hunters, and they each have their role: photographer, cameraman, audio and lights. Waiting until dark on a long, late summer night, the crew load into a car and head for an abandoned mental institution called The Gate.
The background story of The Gate, as told by Jack, reminds me of a combination of “American Horror Story: Asylum” and The Ladd School (Rhode Island’s former institution). There’s enough horror in the backstory to let the reader realize that this isn’t going to be a safe, run-of-the-mill ghost hunt. His story has his crew shivering in fear and disbelief, but they all agree to go along with him, having little to no choice since he’s the driver. Having scoped the place out previously, Jack knows the ins and outs of The Gate, finding a spot to sneak in and figuring out the guard’s schedule.
While there are some teenage antics that this group takes part in, they are serious about ghost hunting for the most part. Jack even expresses frustration when his friends don’t show the utmost respect to the debris left at one point. They have all the right equipment and genuinely seem excited about going back home to review the material they captured. Unfortunately, they run into a group of skinheads who have no respect for anything and are out looking for destructive kicks.
Full on Jack Daniels and PBR, Duke, Dutch, Doc and Mikey happen to pull in behind Jake’s car. The four turn this into a scary game of hide and go seek, though the hiders don’t know that they’re hiding or being seeked. After smashing up Jake’s car, the skinheads set forth on their journey prepared for some “ultra violence,” though not without their equipment: a Louisville Slugger, a samurai sword and a 9mm gun.
The cat and mouse chase reminded me of a scene out of A Clockwork Orange (your choice of the book or movie). The skinhead gang seemed to really be enjoying their night, even if things got out of hand. I couldn’t help but read these pages with visions of Alex and his crew in my head.
Vince, the night watchman, isn’t very good at his job, or he’s too good at sticking exactly to his job description. Getting the job because he knew The Gate’s dirty little secret, Vince used his shift as a way to give him something to do with his time while battling insomnia he’s suffered since the Vietnam War. It’s an easy gig, which works well for the 60-year-old retiree. Keeping a close watch at the entrance of The Gate with a few rounds around the premises, he doesn’t realize that he has company until well into the night.
The cat and mouse chase takes a turn for the supernatural, which threw me for a bit of a loop, even though it makes sense. All of the stories: the ghost hunters, the skinheads, Vince and the “dirty little secret” all collide at the climax of the story, which takes place at The Gate’s chapel. The ending seemed to come quickly, leaving me desiring more.
This tale kept me captivated throughout. I found it difficult to stop reading once the kids got to The Gate. There were a few typos in the text, which didn’t take away from the story, but was still noticeable. Condemned is a quick read, but the story has resonated in my head weeks after I read the last word. This is a book that I would read again, which is something I don’t usually do.