The Rotting Within by Matt Kurtz

Fleeing an abusive boyfriend, Kenzie Moore and her two small children seek refuge at the Sunrise Bed & Breakfast, a secluded inn run by her estranged grandmother, Shirley. While there, Kenzie and her children promise to follow one simple rule: stay away from the third floor, where its bedrooms house a pair of reclusive old women. Though the inn seems an idyllic place to start anew, Kenzie quickly discovers something malevolent not only lives under its roof, but moves within its walls.

When Shirley is called away and the kids are mysteriously stricken ill, a torrential storm further isolates the family and brings forth something out of the darkness, something whispering for Kenzie to “kill the children.”

It all culminates in a terrifying game of cat and mouse, where Kenzie must battle both new and old demons while trying to prevent an unimaginable horror from taking place on the floors above.

The IndieMuse Review

Matt Kurtz’s second novel, following his 2018 debut Kinfolk is another in a long line of consistently strong releases from Grindhouse Press this year, and Kurtz has cemented his place among horror titans also published by Grindhouse, such as Bryan Smith, C.V. Hunt and Kristopher Triana, with his new book, The Rotting Within.

Kenzie Moore lives with her two young children and an abusive boyfriend. When her home life becomes too much to bear she decides to escape, taking her children and seeking refuge in a remote guesthouse ran by her grandmother, whom she has never met.

Upon arrival, the situation seems idyllic. Kenzie and the kids have somewhere to stay, and Kenzie agrees to work for her grandmother to earn their keep. Things, however, may not be as perfect as they first appear. Who are the mysterious women on the third floor, and what is the strange whispering they can hear when the lights go out? With her enraged former boyfriend trying to track them down, and a sinister figure stalking Kenzie at the guesthouse, Kenzie must face the horrors waiting for her on the third floor, for the sake of the family she has fought so hard to keep together.

When doing my research for this review, I found that Matt Kurtz spent time as a film director and screenwriter before transitioning to short stories and novels. This past experience comes through in a big way in The Rotting Within. The book feels very cinematic and Kurtz’s vivid descriptions and strong grasp of pacing make it easy to visualize what’s being presented. It makes the book all the scarier that the stakes for the lead, Kenzie, are so high.

Kurtz sets a lot of different things in motion in the story and it makes for an unpredictable and sometimes chaotic read. The mysterious occupants of the third floor and abusive ex are an ever-present concern, but hints at other supernatural goings-on and the questionable motives and actions of other secondary characters mean you never know where the true threat lies until things crash together in a frantic, action-packed finale where all the threads combine in a neat and satisfying way.

While I did have some problems with the book, they were largely minor and more down to personal preference than actual issues with the story itself. There were some interesting secondary characters who are side-lined for large portions of the book, and one particularly promising and vital side story builds up tension, only to fizzle out in the final pages. I also felt the ending was signposted a little too heavily too early on, lessening the impact when it came, but slight concerns aside, these did little to impact my overall enjoyment.

Tense, scary and unpredictable, with a killer ending, The Rotting Within is a story about a mother’s fight to protect her family, wrapped in an atmospheric and genuinely disturbing horror package. Highly recommended.

RICHARD MARTIN

Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.