"With a Blighted Touch" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by BHC Press

with a blighted touch j todd kngrea poster large

Written by J. Todd Kingrea
2023, 296 pages, Fiction
Released on 24th October 2023


J. Todd Kingrea’s With a Blighted Touch delivers a spicy blend of mystery and small-town horror, which neatly plays its cards close to the chest until well into the story. I love small-town horror novels and American authors have undoubtedly cornered the market; in this tale we head to Scarburn County, Tennessee, and the mountain community of Black Rock. This town is known for an unusual and prevalent blight that affects most vegetation. In the early stages of the plot, not much is made of the phenomenon, but that changes as the narrative progresses.

With a Blighted Touch dances around a well-worn horror trope; a main character reluctantly returning to their childhood home and finding skeletons everywhere, not just in their closet. Christopher "Kit" McNeil pitches up at Black Rock after eighteen years away, having just missed his mother’s funeral, and is forced to stay with his estranged, elderly and cantankerous father. Kit also has a serious drinking problem and has just been fired from his latest job as a session guitarist. In his years away from Black Rock, once a musician with prospects, he has failed to make it big and has lived a transient lifestyle, with booze costing him more than money.

After barely being home a few hours, Kit and his dad are, once again, fighting. As he is broke and desperate, Kit ends up temporarily living above the furniture shop of an old school friend. I like Kit. Yes, he is a failure, is low on self-confidence and self-consciously overweight, but he has his charms. He grows in stature as the book advances, is forced to confront demons (not just from the bottle) he never thought imaginable, and shows exceptional courage in doing so. Kit is a musician, a lover not a fighter, and is way out of his comfort zone when things turn nasty.

The story also features captivating and nostalgic flashbacks to when Kit and his best friend Troy were twelve, which is significant in the longer story arc. We also find out Black Rock (called Cancer City by some) is not a great place to grow up; there are multiple unexplained disappearances and a large dysfunctional and aggressive family called Dunley terrorising the town. Whilst fooling around in the local forest, the two boys spot one of the teenage girls, who is shortly reported missing. They keep this sighting to themselves and this niggling secret, and seeds of guilt, continue to haunt Kit into adulthood.

The flashback scenes (one of which with a late-night bike chase sequence is outstanding) provide an inkling into what the supernatural entities might be, but the vagueness is a strength of the novel. How this connects to the developing supernatural story in the present-day narrative is also smartly handled. After meeting up with his old buddy Troy, Kit is ready to leave Black Rock, but is the first on the scene after a sheriff’s deputy is murdered on the highway out of town. This leads to serious escalation and soon there is a target on Kit’s back and a clever development which indicates deeper personal connections to the strange incidents and some neat reveals.

Everybody who is a horror fan recalls the scene in the TV mini-series of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot where the dead brother comes tapping on the window of his older sibling. With a Blighted Touch has some moments reminiscent of this iconic scene; where poor Kit just cannot believe what he is seeing, yet it strangely reminds him of something long forgotten from his childhood. If you don’t like creepy kids, avoid this book like the plague!

The story fans out with other characters being introduced; Courtney a divorced former classmate; Troy who has been carrying out his own investigation into the disappearances; members of the Dudley clan; and the disbelieving sheriff’s office. The story does lose some steam once the big reveals arrive, but it works great as a supernatural mystery, and refuses to hold back in a full-throttle monster horror ending. Even if With a Blighted Touch offers nothing new, it is a fun ride with an unlikely hero, engaging coming-of-age flashbacks and an excellent supernatural mystery which keeps the tension bubbling.


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
Other articles by this writer


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