Sunday, April 4, 2010

Deadlight by Troy Barnes

Many of you might be aware of Troy Barnes. In 2008 this native Tasmanian burst onto the scene with the self-financed debut Deadlight here under the microscope. The very next year he went on to publish MONOChromacy. Troy’s work is like holding up a mirror to some of the more archetypal horror stories of the past, while he still manages to find his own voice over the extended length of a supernatural thriller.

What has consistently drawn me to Deadlight over the past two years (and finally made me grab it), is the cover illustration. From a distance it piques the interest: a dynamic blue color scheme by graphic designer Jessica Turale acting like a beacon. After a quick perusal of the art and blurb, we have a good idea of the territory on show. 

Carter City: Detective Nathan Stone and his partner Ritchie Clements are on the trail of a female serial killer dubbed ‘The Messenger.' Over time, with no clues and no leads, the bodies begin piling up. What becomes evident is they are dealing with a young woman of no ordinary ilk. With almost uncanny super-human strength and agility, Sarah is able to fight and ‘see’ the malignancy inhabiting a human spirit - those who have committed heinous acts in the past. This gift (or curse) was bestowed upon her after awakening from a coma. Her assignment on this side of the veil is to dispatch those who dwell within the Deadlight.

There are great portions of Deadlight that deal with police mythos and work. In parts it’s gritty and stylish, reflecting a kind of washed-out noir world of chain smoking detectives. In other parts, the banter can be loose and ill-fitting. Oftentimes, authors can deploy the act of imagining with minor attention to verisimilitude. When reading, I was reminded of how Stephen King once remedied this. After completing a preliminary draft of From a Buick 8, he took it upon himself to spend some time with real-life troopers in Pennsylvania, thereby adding flavor that wasn't just guesswork and things cobbled together from reams of modern US cop shows. Of course, not everyone can have such resources at their disposal, so Troy is ultimately to be forgiven.

Things certainly crank up around page 120, as Sarah is more heavily introduced into the fray of the wicked. One of the positive things here is Troy is no slouch when it comes to bloodletting: Sarah’s lack of conscience and irrational behavior can be grating at first, but over the course of the novel we see how and why this is so. At times, her method of purging humanity’s dross happily reminded me of Jigsaw from the Saw franchise; the same ethical conundrums present themselves … and the killing methods are just as creative.

After completing the novel I was in two minds: on one hand certain errors were jarring. On the other we know we’re dealing with an author who is in the infancy of their career. Troy Barnes is talented, and you can tell he cares about what he is doing. There’s both heart and determination in Deadlight. I imagine that by the third or fourth effort, he will discover an ambitious narrative that will ultimately sell books. For this reason, Deadlight is certainly worthy of purchase.