Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: Deadlight by Troy Barnes

Many of you might be aware of Troy Bares. In 2008 this native Tasmanian burst onto the scene with the self-financed debut Deadlight that is here under the microscope for review. 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, but 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 obtain it) has been the cover illustration. From a distance it always piqued my interest; the dynamic blue colour scheme by graphic designer Jessica Turale is like a beacon honing in all like-minded souls. After a quick perusal of the art and blurb, we have a very good idea of the territory we’re about to inhabit.

Carter City: Detectives 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 start piling up and it becomes obvious 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 that inhabits a human spirit who has 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.

Right off the bat, we know we are dealing with a debut novel. Regular typos become apparent after a while and it can have quite a jarring impact. (Although I have noticed this with a few Australian publications over the past couple of years). Commas and question marks are missing, and general words like ‘and’ and ‘the’ can be found substituted for something else. There are breaks in the narrative that are missing three little asterisks at the bottom. That said, this is highly common, and should be easily rectified. It is obvious, however, that portions of the novel need an editor’s zeal and suggestions. Troy shows great promise, but seems to have been let down in this regard.

There is a great portion of the book that deals with police mythos and work. In parts it’s gritty and stylish, reflecting a kind of washed out sepia world of chain smoking detectives whose life is their work. In other parts, the banter can be loose and ill-fitting. It seems Troy has employed the tact of imagining with little thought to verisimilitude. Again, this is something that can be remedied. When reading, I was reminded of how Stephen King once achieved 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 some real flavour that was not just guesswork and things cobbled together from watching reams of modern US cop shows. Of course, not everyone can have these 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 blood letting: Sarah’s lack of conscience and irrational behaviour can be grating at the start, but over the course of the novel we see how and why she has been led down this path. Suddenly her more erratic behaviour makes sense as we are granted a portal into the genesis of her ‘awakening’. At times, her method of purging humanity’s dross happily reminded me of celluloid serial ‘Jigsaw’ from the Saw franchise. We have the same ethical conundrums that present themselves … and killing methods that are just as effective.

After completing the novel I was in two minds: on one hand the errors can be quite jarring and make the reader recoil. On the other we know we’re dealing with an author who is in career infancy. Troy Barnes is talented, there is no doubt about that. And you can tell he really cares about what he is doing. There’s heart in Deadlight and determination. I imagine that by his third or forth effort, he will have found a dedicated readership and a coherent narrative that will ultimately sell books. For this reason Deadlight is certainly worth its purchase.

Copies of Deadlight can be ordered from the author’s website. 

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