Back in Horror's heyday, the masters (Straub, King, et al.) would crank out 500 to 800 page apocalyptic tomes, usually set in some small town filled with secrets, that never seemed to end. At the end of these novels, everything would blow up. I was never a huge fan, not because I didn't like horror (I love it), but because for me, horror works best with a tighter, smaller focus, with an emphasis on atmosphere (I'm a Ramsey Campbell fan). Give me dread over explosions any day. Langan's Keeper is from the "tome" era. To its credit, at 380 pages, it is shorter, but around page 260 or so, I was horrified that I had a hundred pages more to go. A character I couldn't stand wasn't dead yet (squeeze harder Susan!), a giant spider had showed up out of nowhere, and it just kept raining. (Actually, I liked the steady use of rain as a mood establishing device. For some reason I was reminded of Stewart O'nan's masterpiece The Night Country. Must be that Jamie Lee Curtis time of year.) Another problem for me was that I never bought into the core cause of the horror, so to some extent, from early on, I felt I was on a long march.
On the other hand, Langan can write. She creates believable characters (I really liked Liz), though sometimes there were conversations that just went on and on without really adding momentum to the story. Langan also has, like King, a good eye for things contemporary. The teens in the Keeper are modern day versions of King's 70s kids. The music, the clothes, the talk, all seemed right to me. But hey, it's a first novel, so ignore the novel's glowing heavy weight blurbs and take it for what it is. The Keeper does have some effective moments, and to my mind is much closer to real horror than another heavily touted new writer, Cherie Priest. This may seem like an overly critical review, but in part this is due to the promise I see with this writer. She seems enthusiastic about the genre, and contemporary horror needs new blood. There's a new crop coming (Lebon, Keene, Link, Priest), and Langan, I suspect, after another novel or so, will be viewed as a major figure in that group.