The Dark Net (2017) is the new thriller from Benjamin Percy who - for many reasons - is on the 'must-read' pile. But we'll get to that in a moment. The Dark Net is a strangely 'classical' horror novel, in the Straub/King model, not, say, Poe. There's an evil rising in Portland, and a rag-tag group of people are drawn together to stop it.
Like a Straub or a King (or a McCammon or an F. Paul Wilson) there's a metaphysical element: a greater contest of Good and Evil taking place. It is implied that Portland is merely the latest battleground, but, unless our heroes band together... it could also be the last. If you know the genre, you know how it works, and can predict the properly embiggened and important ending.
While all the cosmic epic stuff happens up there (hand-waves), there's a lot of stuff happening on a more immediate, visceral level. The Dark Net is super-squishy, and properly downright terrifying. The monsters are monstrous and the people are worse. It is genuinely horrific in the true sense of the word: juxtaposing the uncanny and the unnatural into everyday life to get the reader recoiling in fear and disgust. Well done, really.
Between the gooey and the epic, there are also some terrific characters. Mike is a social worker. The former child prodigy of the evangelism world, he had an encounter with true evil, and has spent his adult life recalibrating his faith appropriately. Lela is an old-school journalist (late series Wire!) - coffee, notebooks and a lingering resentment of the existence of email. She's a dinosaur in a crippled industry, but - as the title of the book might suggest - her technophobia might save her life. They're an unlikely, ungainly pair of broken people, but what they lack in resources, they make up for in chutzpah.
As a stand-alone, The Dark Net is, well - kind of a hoot. It has all the po-faced seriousness and thoughtless explodery of the era it harkens back to, but with the addition of well-considered characters and some thoughtful, and timely, discussion. It is a throwback, but with all the conveniences of modernity.
As a stand-alone, The Dark Net is also a... stand-alone. And this is why - referenced above - I think Benjamin Percy isn't just brilliant, but also brave. If you've been following his bizarrely wonderful literary/pulp fusion career, here's a recent recap: Red Moon (werewolves among us; mind-blowing ending), The Dead Lands (post-apocalyptic Lewis and Clark; world-expanding ending); The Dark Net (contemporary horror; epic scale ending). All of these are springboards for series, if not universes. All of them begin with, then twist, then discard conventions in an impossibly intriguing way. And all of them are stand-alones. Sequels would be welcome - if not expected - to all three. But... nope.
Alternatively - as a meta-series: a series of completely disconnected books, this is one hell of a body of work. Red Moon is about the rise of extremist, The Dead Lands about the decline of the American Dream, The Dark Net about privacy, surveillance and our technocratic state. They have nothing to do with one another, except that they're all dark mirrors to the now: genre fiction used in its hardest-hitting and most daring way.