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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
When news of their deadbeat dad is delivered by their dying mother who had left them to their own devices for years, Charly and her brother Jacob have an unexpected change in their financial circumstances. In The Excursion by T.O. Paine, Charly is handed the paperwork to a trust fund and the keys to a Colorado cabin where memories of the good outweigh a lifetime of the bad. Charly invites their two cousins, Amanda and Cam, who used to join Charly, Jacob, and their parents while they stayed at the cabin in their youth. Amanda is wildly manipulative and Cam has sadistic tendencies, perpetrating cruelties that terrified the neurodivergent Jacob and continue to haunt him as an adult. On arrival, there is confusion about the ownership of the cabin. A man named Randall, who says his company is the owner, is there to entertain a wealthy client named Barry on a mysterious excursion worse than any of the horrors that Charly and Jacob have experienced even in the worst of times.
The Excursion is a deliciously grim thriller with all the best components necessary to hook a reader and keep them almost obsessively engaged. From a literary standpoint, T.O. Paine is pitch-perfect with prose that reveals only enough to satiate readers on a need-to-know basis, employing a slow unpeeling of what's to come with skilled pacing and organic dialogue. I loved the variants incorporated into Charly's experiences through her point of view in the present, alongside the excursion organizer, Randall. This contrasts with her view of her past and a game her father once organized at the cabin. The nuanced theme of how we cannot escape our past and that life has a way of coming full circle whispers through a plot that is thick with tension. Even the perpetually drunk Kennedy and the paying hunter Barry remind Charly of her parents. The hunts by Zaroff Excursions are only nominally different from the years Charly was forced to survive, reinforced when Randall himself says to Kennedy, “It's hostile outside.” There are some excellent surprises, including a MacGyver transformation from the least expected in a cast of fully-fleshed-out characters. This is a fantastic read that, despite its colossal size, can be devoured in a single weekend.