Book review: I Am Behind You by John A. Lindqvist

A book review? Do I even know how to do this anymore? I’ll tell you what, let me do two short hit jobs on a couple of other books that I didn’t finish as warm up stretches before getting to the real review. Sound fun? Let’s begin.

First up is that book I mentioned reading at work that got stolen along with my bike. I said before that I had maybe 30 pages left and I wasn’t sure if I cared how it ended. With more time to reflect, I can now say I don’t. The book is The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer, and I know I said in reviewing The Host that I would read her work in any genre, a spy thriller featuring a romance between a CIA torturer and her victim was apparently a bridge too far for me. Sorry, Steph, but better luck next time. Oh, and hey, good on you for having twins in a book and not using the hackneyed psychic twin connection trope, unlike my next victim.

Book 2 on the hit list is Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Clone, er, Owen King, and I shit you not, I tried sticking with this book for well over a year and a half even through reading each chapter felt like crawling across a carpet made of thumbtacks and table salt. Leave it to King to come up with a premise where all the women get transported to a magical land where they can rebuild society over many months, hold social circles, and eventually decide they really need the D. Meanwhile, over in the man’s world, only a few hours have passed, and that short time is a fucking endless treadmill of “Man, men sure are shit, right?” Yeah, I get it. I got it after the first five examples, and after that shit got drainingly repetitive, not even the promise of an explosive man battle could get me through the last 100 pages. I still remember King saying he was retiring because his stuff was getting repetitive, and while I have a top ten list comprised solely of his works, I kinda wish he’d either get back to retirement, or get back on the kinds of drugs that made his earlier work more interesting.

Right, with those victims dispatched, let’s talk about I Am Behind You by John A. Lindqvist, or rather, let’s take a moment to appreciate what a shitty choice of English title this is compared to the original. The original title is Himmelstrand, which refers to the songwriter and journalist Peter Himmelstrand. Peter’s songs are part of the story, as well as the writer himself. So even if the original title is a bit meh, it at least fits the story. Meanwhile, I Am Behind You is just meaningless. There is never a killer behind a victim. No one is ever behind anyone, for that matter. I Am Inside You might have worked, but whoever chose the English title needs to reread the story over and over until they come up with something more fitting. I know, it’s a moot point since they already published a trilogy and tripled down on these garbage names, but a girl can dream, yo.

Setting that aside, I Am Behind You may be Lindqvist’s most vague horror book yet, and as a result, probably his most approachable. Every previous book has had at least one “what the fuck” moment so intense that I had to put the book down and walk away for a breather. Little Star had that moment early on, and it was so bad I needed a month to calm down and come back to the book. It had more shocks later on, but after that first hard jolt the rest were striking a numb target, so I only needed a few minutes to get over them.

There’s nothing like that here, which isn’t a knock to the story. The book was good enough to invoke that good old “one more chapter” impulse, leading immediately to the “fuck, is it really 4 am” reaction. When it comes to books, I don’t think there can be any endorsement higher than not wanting to stop reading well past one’s normal bed time.

The story starts with the occupants of four caravan campers waking up to discover that they’ve been transported away from the campgrounds to somewhere else. What is this place? It’s never really given a name or even a vague hint. Composed of a wide disc of flat grassy plainlands and sunless blue sky, it is surrounded by a wall of darkness that no one can see until they drive right up on top of it. A few characters insist that God is also missing because they can no longer feel Him, but that feels a bit like unreliable narration, so I didn’t put much stock into it.

The monsters of the story are similarly vague, composed of two types, neither of which is given a name. The first to show up aren’t shapeshifters so much as projectors of a viewer’s worst fears or desires. One woman sees Jimmy Stewart in many of his film roles, while a little boy obsessed with Star Wars sees stormtroopers. Another sees his dead father, and another sees…traveling salesmen? That is never even explained with a flashback, it’s that vague. They seem to be some kind of immortal ghosts, attaching themselves to a human host in the physical world before eventually taking over. Whether that takeover is what started the journey from the real world to the disc world is never made clear, though it is obvious that the two are connected somehow.

The second group of monsters to show up act like zombies but only drink blood. So they show up, do their thing, and then wander off. One character’s transformation at least explains how they change into a monster, but another character shows it is possible to escape the process to become human again.

I really hate having to be so vague to avoid spoilers, and I must insist that the hazy nature of the setting and its monsters was never a drag for me. It kept me reading in the hope of finding answers, and while there were a few, I was left feeling slightly disappointed at the lack of any more concrete labels or myths to latch onto. And then again, maybe there was a definitive answer, and it eluded me because I’m not nearly as well versed in Scandinavian mythology and monsters.

It’s a minor complaint, I suppose, and perhaps the other two books in the trilogy will give more definitive answers. Either way, I’ll give I Am Behind You four stars and recommend it to fans of cosmic or cerebral horror. There’s some blood on display, but no guts or viscera to create deep shock value. So if you’re timid about jumping into horror, this might be worth exploring before wading into the murkier, chunkier waters in the oceans of horror.