Friday, June 3, 2011

Samhane by Daniel I Russell

Originally from the United Kingdom, Daniel I Russell moved to Australia in late 2008, setting up shop and carving his own niche in the community. This, his debut effort, is the accumulation of a lifetime spent studying the terrain and mapping the territories. The resultant outcome, Samhane, is like a cross pollination of the best the genre can offer infused with Daniel’s every-man tone and occasional comic aim. 

We begin our journey with Donald Patterson, middle-aged horror writer saddled with a day job who dreams of the big-time. Initially, this opening was a mild turn off ... for at once our protagonist’s head-space mirrors the authors. Many writing instructors – some more than others - will be vociferous you must distance yourself from your work. Though it goes without saying that if every published writer heeded this counsel, a huge chunk of them would not have graced us with their best. Although not outwardly transparent upon publication, it eventually became evident 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 reader's across the globe like to see the inner workings of a creative mind dissected on the page. 

After purchasing a new laptop on eBay from an ominous merchant (Roger), Donald comes across something on its hard-drive that could potentially be a snuff film; tainted evidence plunging him into a world where the vendor will do anything to secure its return … including kidnapping wife Beverley and spiriting her away in to the far-flung English town of Samhane. There follows an odyssey of torture, sex, and clout at the hands of a cult who uses the streets of Samhane as its playground to attract the benedictions of a long-forgotten deity.

There are two-plot strands, 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 when the town is abruptly inundated with ghouls, morphing human worms, and female water-wraiths. Eventually the strands collide in an epic showdown of grindhouse horror with Lovecraftian overtones.

What I loved here, from beginning to end, is the delicious cavalcade feel. Samhane is a cauldron on the cusp of Hell, and this is a formula with its roots firmly entrenched in the genre. Needful Things by Stephen King displayed a similar mechanism: the streets and people being reigned in by a mysterious force that sits nonchalantly in the shadows. Popcorn horror, but a gentle reminder 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 the third act finale can feel somewhat ponderous), but as a working whole Samhane is a lofty splatter debut that could teach veterans in the field a thing or two about entertainment. Hopefully (with works like this one), Australia will see a renaissance of cinematic horror fiction ushering in similar works into the mainstream.