Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: Samhane by Daniel L. Russell

Originally from the United Kingdom, author Daniel I Russell moved to Australia in late 2008 to set up shop and carve his own niche in the local dark fiction community. This, his debut effort, is the accumulation of a lifetime spent studying the terrain and mapping the territories. And the resultant outcome, Samhane, is like a cross pollination of the best the genre can offer infused with Daniel’s everyman lyricism and sometimes comic aim. 

We begin our journey with Donald Patterson, middle age horror writer with a day job who aims for something loftier and dreams of the big-time. Initially, this opening was a mild turn off, for at once the protagonist’s headspace seems to be that of the authors. Many writing instructors – some more than others - will be quite vociferous putting across the message that you must distance yourself from your own work. However, it goes without saying that if every published writer heeded such counsel a huge chunk of them would not have graced us with their best. Although not transparent upon publication, it eventually became apparent that of course Jack Torrance embodied the personality of Stephen King. The same could be said of his central characters in Misery, The Dark Half, and countless others. Here, Daniel is writing about what he knows … and that’s the ineffable truth that horror lovers across the globe like to see the inner workings of a creative mind laid out bare on the page.

After purchasing a new laptop on eBay from an ominous merchant (Roger), Donald comes across something on its hard-drive that may well be a snuff film. This tainted piece of evidence plunges him into a world where the vendor suddenly realizes his error and will do anything to secure its return … including kidnapping his wife Beverley and holding her for ransom in the far-flung English town of Samhane. There follows an odyssey of torture, sex and clout whereby Donald discovers the existence of a cult who uses the streets of Samhane as a playground to attract the benedictions of a long-forgotten deity.

There are two-plot strands here, with the second revolving around a father and son team (Brian and Sam) in the lucrative business of dispatching supernatural baddies. Holing up in Samhane to work at the behest of the Mayor, they have their work cut out for them as the town is suddenly inundated with ghouls, morphing human worms and female water-wraiths. Eventually the strands collide in an epic showdown of avant B grade style horror with Lovecraftian overtones.

What I loved here, from beginning to end, was the delicious cavalcade feel. Samhane is a cauldron on the cusp of Hell, and this is a formula that has its roots firmly entrenched in the genre and never gets boring. Needful Things by Stephen King displayed a similar mechanism: the streets and people being reigned in by a mysterious entity that sits nonchalantly in the shadows merely enjoying the show. Popcorn horror, but horror of a species that reminds me of why I got into reading in the first place. There are slight drawbacks (I would have liked to see the cast expanded further and at times the third act finale feels somewhat ponderous), but as a working whole this is splatter narrative at it’s finest and a debut that could teach even veterans in the field a thing or two about entertainment value. Hopefully with works likes this, Australia will see a renaissance of cinematic horror in fiction that will enable similar works to be taken more seriously in the mainstream.

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