Now a permanent fixture in the Australian dark fiction scene, the last few years have seen Western Australian author Daniel I Russell build an impressive bibliography to put him at the very forefront of the community. With the publication of Critique from Dark Continents as part of their Tales of Darkness and Dismay series, he has not only cemented his innovative reputation but moved even further ahead of the rest of the field.
We start our tale with ex-con Carlos making a pit-stop to escape the desolation of the desert and hours spent submerged behind the wheel. Carlos is on his way to make a very special delivery – but his decision to stop at an eccentric out-of-the-way Church catering food will see him holed up longer than he anticipated. It is here a reader will find the early snapshots of what could be projected as the blue-print for slasher-film fodder - but what the author has in mind as Carlos pulls up his seat is a lot darker than mere splatter film semantics. Here, a new tale is about to unfold … one low on body count but high in the themes of morality and secret subtext.
A restaurant critic of the highest order, Sandy Devanche makes quite a comfortable living appraising (and more often than not tearing apart), the cities finest food establishments. On one particular rainy and wind-swept night he enters The House of Jacob … a small restaurant offering a revolutionary dining experience its patrons won’t easily forget – especially Sandy Devanche – who has been chosen by the mysterious proprietor Jacob Enfer as an unwitting subject in a serving of ethics and belief.
Besides the pertinent themes here, Critique offers us a beautiful insight into the myriad world of food and those who partake of it seriously as a craft. Slowly, Sandy Devanche is led on an odyssey of torture and redemption where he will partake of ingredients not befitted in the menus of even non-Western cosmologies. There is unconventional sex, addiction, secrets – and even a smattering of mythology … all the ingredients befitting a healthy horror tale.
Above all, the story on show is just plain fun. All too often as an avid reader of dark fiction I’ve found myself dealing with stories that are entertaining but ultimately sub-par. But Critique, like a good song or memorable meal, has just the right hook to keep you glued from beginning to end. The only minor quibble I have is perhaps a prolonged word count with the climax that could have been shaved subtly.
Here, Russell has stepped out of his comfort zone and written a tale where he surpasses all his previous work. One can only hope the future holds such serious promise for this burgeoning writer ...