Review: “Pressure,” Jeff Strand

Pros: Very neatly-plotted, and heartstopping!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Jeff Strand’s Pressure is a delirious look into the relationship between a psychopathic killer and a man who’s been pushed too far. Alex and Darren met in boarding school. Darren was a quiet type, always writing in his journal, and Alex was pretty normal. The two bonded over trying to peep through the back door of a strip club, and Darren decided he and Alex were friends. Unfortunately, Darren has much darker interests than just catching a glimpse of a boob or two. He turns out to be relentlessly manipulative and horribly crafty, going so far as to get other boys kicked out of the school through thorough frame-jobs. When Alex goes to college, he runs into Darren again. Darren seems much nicer now, and he’s good at making Alex laugh. Unfortunately, Darren’s friendship comes with a price. Darren seems to think he sees the same darkness in Alex that he possesses, and he’s determined to make Alex acknowledge it.

What a twisted spin on the psychopath genre! Darren genuinely thinks he’s helping Alex, even while threatening his family. He doesn’t understand why Alex refuses to give in to the urges Darren’s convinced Alex has inside of him. It’s utterly fascinating, and yields an unusual series of events that make this book stand out.

The characters are fabulous. Darren is genuinely witty and charming when Alex meets him again in college, and it’s been about 6 years, so it’s easy to understand why Alex is disarmed by him. He even thinks of the people Darren screwed over when they were 12 and thinks, “They’d understand. People change.” Alex’s natural sarcastic sense of humor makes even day-to-day musings interesting enough to keep me glued to the page.

Serious content note here: suicidal ideation, animal harm, torture, child harm. This is a very dark tale.

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