SANTA DEATH is Devan Sagliani's take on the slasher movie in literary form, based loosely on the stories of cartel assassins committing human sacrifices. The story seems loosely inspired by the Hostel movies or the earlier American Werewolf in London. Perhaps even the archetypal group of partying American teenagers go somewhere they shouldn't, get kidnapped by the locals, and are punished by human psychopaths. A concept which goes back to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in origin.
I'm a big fan of Devan Sagliani's work, starting with the Young Adult series Zombie Attack!. I was also a big fab of his Undead L.A and The Rising Dead series. The Undead L.A. series combined a lot of factoids about Los Angeles subcultures with the sudden arrival of the walking dead to create a unique addition to the franchise. Zombie Attack! had the benefit of well-written and likable teenage heroes facing a post-apocalypse future full of weirdos and psychopaths.
Saint Death is more interesting to me because of its take on a literary form than the plot itself, which isn't an attempt to put down the plot. When I say this is a slasher movie, I mean that almost literally. The premise of the protagonists being a bunch of teenagers in Cabo San Lucas follows the form of a slasher film almost perfectly and uses literary flourishes to capture the pacing, feel, and design of what has always been a film genre.
Standard horror novels rarely attempt to capture the cinematic experience and often end up being more about characters' backstories, thoughts, and interactions than the visceral sense of terror they're experiencing at the very moment of being chased down by a killer with murderous intent. Kudos to Devan Sagliani for managing to give us a real sense of who these people are and why we should care about them dying but also keep the pacing extremely swift.
The book is not without its flaws. At only 123 pages, this is a short read that I think could have had more interactions with its characters. I happened to like all of them but our author is perhaps a bit too kill happy and takes them off the board just when they're getting interesting. I'm also not a fan of "hero" Zack as he's the least interesting of the protagonists. In a horror movie, he'd definitely be the one to survive but experimenting with the formula seems like it would have been a better idea.
The choice to use a real life cultural tradition for the cult of murderous serial killers is also perhaps questionable but this is part of Devan Sagliani's style. Besides, these are explicitly a group of depraved cartel members who aren't the sort of people who really need defending. I had fun with the book and hope the author continues writing slasher movie plots. I just hope he experiments with the formula a bit more.