As a boy growing up in Florida, Kevin Matzke spent many a Saturday morning tuning into cult horror classics broadcast on a show called Creature Feature.
That love of the macabre has come out more than four decades later in a crime novel set in Matzke's current town of Gambrills.
Matzke’s The 5th Brother examines the fictional case of a serial killer named “The Creeper” who terrorizes a Maryland community. It’s part of what he hopes will become a trilogy that is part crime thriller and part horror story, with a touch of the supernatural.
“Gambrills is a really quiet area,” Matzke said in an interview from his home. “Not too many people know about it. It’s pretty peaceful, and quiet areas always inspire a sort of mystery about them.”
The 5th Brother, published by Strategic Publishing Group, is Matzke’s first published book. He wrote the book under the pseudonym Andrew Stark, an homage to a childhood friend, Andrew who was killed during Operation Desert Storm. Stark is a nod to a character by horror author Stephen King.
Matzke’s willingness to delve into darkness may also stem from a 20-year stint as a hospital corpsman with the Navy. He now works as a researcher at Naval Medical Research Center in Bethesda and, over the years, his careers have helped him hone his skills of observation, which came in handy when writing.
When penning The 5th Brother, inspiration came from observing everyday life, he said. The way people interact with one another in the early morning hours. The mannerisms of the “loner” who flows in and out of the local coffee shop. The pace and rhythm of simple banter.
“The job I had in the military required me to be very observant and very aware,” he said. “You learn a lot from just sitting on the sidelines and listening to people’s conversations.”
The 5th Brother follows the story of Stanley, a detective looking into the case of a series of murders that are eerily similar to those that took place about a decade prior. The novel also centers on a young man freed from a mental institution years after his family was murdered by the first killer.
But The 5th Brother is hardly a slasher film in book form. The novel delves into deeper subjects, including the sexual abuse scandal involving the Catholic Church, and touches on the issue of medical experiments performed by the Nazi party on Jews during WWII. One of the more challenging tasks in writing the book, Matzke said, was developing a main character’s experience with sexual abuse and its impact.
“When I sat down and wrote it, I had to bring up feelings and emotions of what it would have been like if I had been in that situation,” he said. “The emotions it caused were mixed. Anger, fear ... even though it didn’t happen to me, I felt a lot of that.”
Matzke is currently finishing up a second book that will serve as the prequel to The 5th Brother, and he hopes a third will follow.