Thanks to the movie adaptations, John Ajvide Lindqvist will probably always best be known for his debut Let The Right One In, nevertheless he's continued to write edgy, well-crafted horror since that promising start.
This fourth novel is billed as his first non-supernatural take on the genre, and while that's strictly true, there's an eerie, other-worldly feel that lends creeping menace throughout. Little Star shares a central motif with the vampire tale of Lindqvist's debut, in that it revolves around a pair of social outsiders fighting against the perceived injustices of the world.
In this case we have Theres and Teresa, two very different teenage girls who meet and, along with a collection of acolytes, become a dangerous, volatile force. The novel starts with the discovery of Theres as a baby, in the woods and half dead. The middle-aged singer-songwriter who finds her resuscitates her and decides to keep her, much to his wife's dismay. Amid the fear of discovery, they raise her in their basement, and Theres becomes an unearthly child, unemotional and detached from the normal world with one exception – she has a mesmerising, pitch-perfect singing voice. After a catastrophic incident, she is cared for by her adopted brother, given a new identity and gradually assimilated into the world, yet very much still an outsider.
In comparison, Teresa is a very normal picture of teenage female angst. Overweight, unattractive and bullied, she's full of self-loathing and depression until she sees Theres performing on a reality television show. Teresa is hooked, and the two strike up a strange rapport, begin working on music together, and eventually come into contact with a sleazy manager intent on ripping them off. As Theres's fame spreads, she becomes a messiah figure for disenfranchised teenage girls and, along with Teresa, she takes her disciples on a descent into violent revenge.
There's much to admire here, Lindqvist doing a great job of portraying the teenage mindset without resorting to cliché, and his interlinking of the inherent bullying at school with bullying in the wider world is clever without being too obvious.
The early parts of Little Star are overwritten, though, and he sacrifices plot for characterisation a tad too much. Having said that, he builds a palpable sense of terror through the alienation of his main players, and he proves with the apocalyptic ending that he's up there with the best literary horror writers.