‘When your own blood abuses you, you must spill it or die trying’
Die, You Bastard! Die! is a 2015 American revenge thriller novel by Jan Kozlowski, published by Deadite Press.
Money, they say, makes the world go round. What they don’t realize is hate can be equally motivating. As Jan Kozlowski’s Die, You Bastard! Die! opens, Claire Valentin doesn’t realize how inspiring it can be, either. She’s an EMT in Albany, New York, saving lives and protecting children from abuse while enjoying an abundance of congenial verbal sparring with her lank co-worker, simply known as Jim.
Everything’s fine with Claire’s life, until she gets a call from Olivia, a friend she left behind in her hometown of Paxton, after she had run off to Albany in order to escape the salacious and sadistic gropings of her father – known to the reader only as Big Daddy. Part Wilbur Meecham from The Great Santini, part Daniel Bunkowski from Slob, Big Daddy’s actions are not only the stuff of ghastly nightmares, they’re the stuff the Sawney Bean legend is built upon.
Unfortunately for Claire, Olivia wants her to come back to the Fish Camp in Paxton and take care of her injured father. Only after finding herself trapped in a situation she once considered unthinkable does Claire find out exactly how motivating hate can be. Although highly fictionalized, with an abundance of extravagant violence bordering on the rhetorical, the undercurrent of the story rings true, and for good reason.
Jan Kozlowski explains: “The basic story was something I had been kicking around in my head for a lot of years. I grew up near what became the setting for the Fish Camp and while my father wasn’t quite as evil as Big Daddy, Bastard is emotional non-fiction for me in a lot of ways”.
The author also elaborated on the ‘70s survivalist horror flick feel of the book. “I was a big fan of movies like Last House on the Left, Don’t Look in the Basement, and Black Christmas on triple feature horror nights at our local drive-in when I was a teenager back in the ‘70s, and I definitely believe that’s played into my writing style. I cannot, however, take credit for the grindhouse feel of the book; that credit, including choice of cover and title, goes to my editor, the legendary John Skipp. He has a great love, respect, and appreciation for movies, and wanted to publish books that reflected those preferences”.
A couple of her literary influences seem to be obligatory among horror fans: “Stephen King (particularly his early books and short stories) and Dean Koontz”, she says; some come out of left field, that is until you think about it: Ed McBain contributes to her meaty, energetic style; Harper Lee, Chris Crutcher, and Laurie Halse Anderson explore the same territory of traumatized childhood.
Yet one influence is truly surprising, until she explains: Richard Hooker (aka, Richard Hornberger, Jr, creator of M*A*S*H). “Both the books and the TV series meant a lot to me when I was kid. I blame/credit Hawkeye Pierce (both Alan Alda’s and Dr. Hornberger’s takes on the character) as my inspiration for becoming an urban EMT. God knows, it wasn’t for the money”. And it definitely contributes to the realistic medical details found in her novel.
Clocking in at exactly 118 pages, with its abundance of pulpy verbs, colorful adjectives, declarative sentences, brief chapters, and monstrously grotesque imagery running through its second half, the book reads like a rapid-fire short story burning its way through your brain with an acetylene torch. This almost becomes an issue as the revolting violations and transgressions pile upon one another at an all-too rapid, and near ostentatious, degree; nothing is done subtly here.
Once the midpoint is reached, the characters come off as a condensed Pollitt family butchering its way through Ruggero Deodato’s version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof shot through the vengeance-filled lens of Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978).
Although it could have benefited from a slightly slower pace and a little more fleshing out, Die, You Bastard! Die! packs a punch few other horror novels deliver, and covers territory commonly shied away from by even the hardest of the hard.
The question is can Jan Kozlowski follow up with another work of equal impact. “I have been wrestling with a sequel to Bastard for a while now. The working title is Die, You Bitch! Die! and it is a continuation of Claire’s story. Sorry I can’t give you more information, but I’m still knee-deep in drafts at this point”.
And judging from this book, she’s probably knee-deep in blood, too.
Review and interview by Ben Spurling, Horrorpedia