The story: Alex and Darren meet at a boarding school for troublemakers when they’re 12 years old. They strike up a friendship, one which ends quickly when Alex witnesses Darren’s troubling behavior. Darren isn't ready for their friendship to end, and Alex soon discovers the terrifying consequences of being the object of a psychopath’s obsession.
Opening line: ‘For a while, the bullets were the only things keeping me alive.’
The review: ‘Pressure’ is a horror novel about an on-again, off-again relationship between the shy, mild-mannered Alex and the deeply disturbed Darren.
When Alex is sent to a boarding school after stealing condoms at age 12, he befriends his three roommates, including Darren. One night, Darren convinces Alex to sneak out with him, and the two boys form a brief bond from the experience. Alex soon breaks the bond after Darren shows a dark and deceptive side.
Years later at college, Alex encounters Darren, who assures him that he's no longer the disturbed 12-year-old anymore. The two start hanging out again, but Darren soon reveals his dark side once more, and it’s darker than ever.
The narrator of the story is the affable Alex, a frustrating but endearing protagonist who is comfortable sharing his insecurities. His first-person account portrays Darren as a strange introvert and master manipulator.
The author Strand is known for effectively blending horror and comedy, but ‘Pressure’ is pure horror and one of the most compelling reads in the genre.
Strand’s strong characterizations of Alex and Darren create a visceral hero-villain dynamic but with a twist. The decent Alex is actually weaker and more indecisive than the evil Darren, flaws which make Alex more victim than hero.
When Alex refuses to join Darren in his twisted games, Darren tries to convince Alex by forcing him into gut-wrenching, no-win scenarios.
‘Pressure’ tests the limits of victimhood, making you wonder where the line of heroism ends and nothing-to-lose desperation begins.