Third Time a Final Girl: A Review of The Angel of Indian Lake

The Angel of Indian Lake by Stephen Graham Jones (Saga Press, 2024)

“The Savage History of Proofrock, Idaho” (as aptly dubbed by a student’s video essay in the book’s opening) gets an added chapter, in this final installment of The Indian Lake Trilogy. Genre savant Stephen Graham Jones pens another novelistic love letter to horror fans, and once again proves himself a master of devising/revising the slasher narrative. Readers are guaranteed to laugh out loud, to cry (Jones is as skilled as an Ultimate Fighting Champion when it comes to hitting his audience squarely in the feels), to cheer dramatic acts of heroism, and to cringe at the bursts of graphic violence (e.g. “She folds over holding onto the axe handle but [ ___ ] pulls it back to him, Tall Boots’s intestines unspooling like a long meaty tapeworm she’s been keeping secret since second grade”).

Like its predecessors, My Heart Is a Chainsaw and Don’t Fear the ReaperAngel begins as a bit of a slow burn (the expected opening-scene slayings notwithstanding). Jones takes the time to (re-)establish his characters (the major players and the potential red herrings) and to plant his plot stakes (sketching the circumstances that furnish the requisite isolation; in this instance, it’s a raging forest fire that’s “giving these killings a cover to keep happening”). Once the dominoes are all set in place, though, and the tipping point is reached, the narrative is all hurtling momentum. Former nemeses resurface (in perfectly Gothic fashion, the past refuses to stay dead and buried in Proofrock) and new final girls rise to the violent occasion. Several levels of mystery rivet reader interest, starting with the basic question of what sort of hell has broken loose here–how to explain the series of bizarre deaths (many seeming to result from barehanded decapitation)? Who is the antagonist running around wearing Ghostface (masks)? And who constitutes the title character, the apparent apparition (sporting a “tattered white nightgown and J-horror hair”) reportedly making the town’s environs its haunt? From start to finish, Jones impressively orchestrates his novel’s plot, offering call backs galore and giving familiar story beats fresh resonance.

Angel picks up four years after the events of Reaper, with protagonist Jade Daniels (recently released from her latest prison stint) now back in Proofrock working as the history teacher at Henderson High. She bears plentiful scars from her past two runs through a “slasher cycle,” and is still dealing with the emotional/psychological toll of those prior experiences (Jade pops pills prescribed for “panic attacks,” “social anxiety,” “depression,” and “PTSD”). But she remains a font of slasher knowledge, as cinematic fantasy continues to form both an armor against the harsh realities of life and a special weapon that helps her survive the killing field into which Proofrock has once again transformed. Throughout the trilogy, Jones has experimented with narrative viewpoint, and the bulk of Angel is written in the first-person present, with the unfolding mayhem filtered through Jade’s thoughtstream. This is the closest the reader could possibly get with Jade, and her legions of fans will no doubt relish the intimacy.

Like the two earlier volumes, Angel includes inter-chapter segments. This time they are presented as “reports of investigation” by the Baker Solutions investigative firm (which is attempting to prove that Jade’s community activism has shaded off into criminal vandalism). The official nature of these reports makes them less entertaining than the “Slasher 101”-style essays in Chainsaw and Reaper, but the reports deftly spool out exposition (and have some moving surprises nested within). They also reward the astute reader by embedding key clues to the book’s mysteries.

In Angel, Jones does not shy away from pointed criticism, but never approaches preachiness (recurrent targets: the evils masked by Christianity, and America’s ignominious expansion into the West). The author also continues to interrogate the final girl figure, mining new insight into her nature and significance. Once again, Jade–older, wearier, leerier–is the last person to envision herself as a final girl, yet for the third and ultimate time she proves her metal-AF mettle. Verbally witty and amazingly resilient, brave and vulnerable, badass and tender-hearted, Jade is an unforgettable protagonist, and Angel gives her a legendary send-off.

In the book’s acknowledgment section (which reads like an ultra-informative afterword), Jones states that he felt the need to go “shriekier and gorier” in the trilogy finale. To that end, his book is a screaming success. For all its splattery chaos, the novel nicely ties up loose ends; events from previous volumes receive retroactive explanation, and the closing pages of Angel hearken all the way back to the opening chapter of Chainsaw. Jones brings his Indian Lake Trilogy to an absolutely satisfying conclusion, where the only bittersweet element lies in the realization that this is the end of Jade’s story. Some solace, though: this final girl seems destined to reappear in new form–in the hopefully-near-future adaptation (whether as film trilogy or streaming series) that Jones’s slasher narratives demand.

You wouldn’t want to live (or die) in Proofrock, but it’s a wonderful place to visit, in any shape or form. There might never be another horror locale to match its dark majesty or boast such a rousing heroine in residence.

 

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