Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shadows of The Past by Richard Schiver

There is an unquestionable pattern to my dark fiction reading habits, whereby I will usually alternate between the prolific and the up and coming – giving awareness to the new voices whose book descriptions are a catalyst to take an entire novel-length journey. This, the debut novel from Richard Schivar, will pique constant reader’s curiosity just enough: here we are presented with uncomplicated plot strands and Lovecraftian overtones evocative (perhaps) of something fashioned from the early pen - or pseudonyms - of Dean Koontz.

Jaded police detective Sam Hardin is trying to pick up the pieces of his life after the untimely death of his wife Anna. Now a single father to a teenage girl and a brain damaged four year old boy, he finds more succour in the bottle and immersing himself in police work than attending to family. When a series of bizarre murders at an abandoned warehouse lead to the uncovering of an ancient ceremonial dagger, Jack suddenly finds himself thrust into the realm of an ancient God who not only inhabits human form, but has personally marked his son for possession, thus beginning a new reign of terror on earth and the termination of the human species. 

A novel that begins with promise, Shadows of the Past quickly dovetails into a confusing mish-mash of somewhat clich├ęd characters and uneven scenes that are never fully realized or resolved. Sam Hardin is a rogue cop with a giant chip on his shoulder. His depression, regret and perpetual lamenting a propos of past decisions slowly begin to grate on the reader, shedding light on a protagonist who isn’t exactly likable and sometimes hard to believe. His nemesis in this madness, Jack Griffith, stumbles upon the ancient blade on a routine night whilst working the storm-drains ... and it is here that things become even more perplexing, culminating in a confusing sequence where even Stephen King’s Pennywise makes an entirely unwelcome cameo. Richard goes on to use the description ‘fathomless black eyes’ roughly two dozen times over the course of two hundred pages. The final showdown, an epic stand-off between Sam Hardin and Jack Griffith in the snow, has the distinct flavour of formula – a prescription for pulp (horror) fiction throughout the eighties and early nineties.

Even though puzzling at times, there were enough adequate and redeemable moments in the novel to show a writer in the early stages of ambition. Richard Schivar has a flare for stylish prose and – although the author has a propensity to repeat the same word two (sometimes three) times in a sentence –  occasional flashes of brilliance gave me insight into someone who will eventually find the rhythms of coherent structure over the extended length of a novel.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Come Into Darkness by Daniel I Russell

Since the publication of his debut novel in late 2010, Western Australian author Daniel I Russell has continuously moved forward to create a paradigm of horror fiction with great gifts of invention stamped throughout every outing. In what is perhaps his most prolific year yet, 2012 has given rise to both Critique and The Collector respectively. Here we have a dark fiction author that is never afraid to push boundaries, does not shy away from the visceral, and is still developing a voice that becomes more unique with each successive tale.

Mario Fulcinni has seen it all. After years working in the adult film industry he’s ready to try out new pleasures that belong to a different school of thought – something to dull the pain of a lifetime of fruitless pursuits and unsatisfying addictions. At the urging of an agent he attends Metus House, a mysterious mansion that promises the tour of a life time. The house’s mystery only adds fuel to pyre, and soon Mario is swept up by an aging debonair escort (Worth) who shows Mario a realm where horror, terror, and fantasy will all be used to define fundamental human states.

A story of novella length, Come Into Darkness is still crammed full of everything we’ve come to expect from Daniel. Light on prose, heavy on dialogue, this is biting narrative simplicity and easy to digest. Room by room, Mario is exposed to a past, present, and future that’s like a Faustian pact with the Devil. Through the trail of suffering, Mario and a fellow traveller will witness their sins come to life.

While not as ambitious as Critique, this story is still layered with enough subtext to find a method in the madness. For those averse to extreme horror (such as the imagery presented in the SAW franchise), there will be more than one scene to evoke feelings of horror – perhaps even revulsion. Yet we still find elements of sophistication here, and enough emotional import to gently remind us of an old truism so pertinent in horror fiction ... that Hell itself is repetition. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times

Graphic Novel Review – Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times
Rocky Wood, Lisa Morton and Greg Chapman
McFarland, 2012

Having a somewhat passing acquaintance with a creator behind Witch Hunts, I was well aware of this graphic novels conception and genesis some time ago. The long road to publication saw a mutual desire by all three participants to bring something unique to table: an original slant detailing a part of history now mired in myth but no less potent for that: the Witch Hunts and Burning Times of the middle ages ... a collective mass-hysteria that encompassed every shade and continent of the known world at the time.

We begin our journey with an overview, and see how – with just a few short stanzas of the Bible – the world of men and organized faith perverted their religion, ushering in a whole new world of macabre justice almost unfathomable in the details. From the humble beginnings of rural towns in Europe, with local populaces at a perpetual loss to explain negative weather patterns, illness and death - they sought a scapegoat in the name of witchcraft and sexual liaison with Satan. The reality, of course, was that such parlays were so rare as to be non-existent – and the only way to extract confessions and play out their bloodlust was to implement obscene torture. This physical agony including everything from ‘trial by water’ to medieval devices that crushed legs, extracted fingernails, and choked an unwitting victim to the point they would invariably declare guilt. Once the philosophy was set in motion (proliferated by such witch-hunting bibles as the Malleus Maleficarum), no one was immune to the outbreak, ensuring that brother would rise up against brother and the methods of execution became even more acute.

The biggest attribute of Witch Hunts probably comes in the form of its education. Even if you have an intimate knowledge of the burning times and in particular events like the Salem Witch Trials, there is bound to be a nugget of information within these pages that will come as a surprise. Moreover, the book is philosophical at heart, and you will be asking yourself the pertinent questions. Such as: is it possible that an intelligent species has to go through such a brutal and arcane process to achieve eventual enlightenment? And how, exactly, does a book that millions preach contains benign moral code undertake such a perverse reversal where acts of profound evil are committed in its name? The revelations contained within will entice you to seek out your own - and there are a plethora of names, dates, and situations that just beg for further research on a personal part.

Whether you are a graphic novel fan, a horror aficionado or even a scholar of history, Witch Hunts is a must-have compendium of art – a project that the illustrator, Greg Chapman, seemed born to. With these black and white illustrations, we find a level of sophistication in his resume previously unseen. And in a digital age of electronic prose and art, Witch Hunts is the perfect physical purchase to compliment a library. Glossy, defined, and above all enlightening, all three authors have outdone themselves creating a dark epoch of human history and making this an experience that far exceeded my expectations.