Small press horror novels are a dime a dozen these days (Hell, we publish our own here!), so there’s always a bit of trepidation on my part when accepting an offer for a reader copy in exchange for a review. I’ve offered to review a couple of self-published horror stories over the past few years and none of them have ended up being written up for Psycho Drive-In. If I can’t say something nice about a book, especially something a first-time author has put together from scratch on their own, then I’ll generally just move on to whatever TV show or movie needs coverage.

Which is an awkwardly roundabout way of saying that I’m not going to write about an indie novel unless it’s something special that you need to get your grubby mitts on.

Osgood as Gone, by Cooper S. Beckett, is definitely something special. It helps that this isn’t Beckett’s first rodeo. As his bio states, he is a queer non-monogamous writer whose first book was a memoir about his first five years of non-monogamy (My Life on the Swingset), which was then followed by two novels about swinging and polyamory (A Life Less Monogamous, and Approaching the Swingularity). Osgood as Gone is his first foray into his first love, horror, and it is an impressively confident “debut”.

Speaking as someone who knows a bit about occult detective fiction and can be snobbish about it since we publish our own, this first installment in the ongoing Spectral Inspector series absolutely nails everything that makes this genre one of my absolute favorites. Our protagonist, Prudence Osgood, is a hard-drinking, bitterly sarcastic, polyamorous punk occult podcaster, who self-medicates to deal with the physical pain of a barely-survived car wreck years earlier and the emotional pain of having betrayed her best friend not-so-many years earlier. After receiving a cryptic – and untraceable – email, Osgood finds herself on the trail of a mystery that ends up encompassing backward masking in 90s rock vinyl, a rash of oddly connected disappearances, dead pirate radio broadcasters, abandoned rest areas, cults of Elder Gods, and awkward sexual encounters.

Beckett’s writing is wonderfully readable and despite the book being around 350 pages, one could easily find oneself burning through the whole thing in one sitting. One of the greatest strengths of Osgood as Gone is the way Beckett casually grounds everything, whether that be the physicality of Osgood’s chronic pain, the complex emotional interactions of each main character, or the workmanlike way the mystery unfolds. No narrative shortcuts are taken, and every new revelation feels earned. As the mystery slowly begins to reveal itself to our heroes, we are right there with them, marveling at each new twist and turn. And when we reach the climax, we lose our grip on reality alongside Osgood and worlds collide in a way that elevates everything that has come before.

We’re even left with a tasty cliffhanger that is so natural I’m amazed I didn’t see it coming. Beckett has accomplished exactly what he set out to do (this story has been percolating in one form or another for twenty years!!) and in Prudence Osgood has created a fascinating queer character whose sexuality isn’t the story. She’s broken and struggling just to make ends meet and is one of the most relatable and intriguing occult detectives I’ve ever read.

Osgood Riddance can’t get here quickly enough!

Osgood as Gone will be available on April 22 and on audiobook May 20