Posted on May 19, 2010 by Steven Dawes
Let’s start this one by taking a trip in the way back machine about several months ago. While hanging with a buddy of mine, I came across his just read copy of Urban Gothic by Brian Keene. I’d never read any of Keene’s work before, but after reading the back of the book and being given the thumbs up from my pal, I read it for myself. It was a blunt and gritty ride on the horror express that I dug mucho and vowed never to enter a vacant house again. It even became one of my earliest reviews posted here on da’ Flames. Since then I’ve read several more of his books and have become quite the little fan.
I can tell you via my experience that Brian has carved out a gritty and gory name for himself. His work has proven to be violent, voraciously vicious, visceral, eviscerating, evil, vile, violating, villainous, venomous, vexing, and any other appropriate word with “v” in them can be added to this vichyssoise of horror. Feel free to read his work for the veracity of my last sentence. And now that this verbose overuse of “v” words is out of my system (and I have no idea where it came from), I’m happy to announce that Brain’s latest work, Darkness of the Edge of Town stopped by my crib to scratch my reader’s itch. The timing was perfect as my sick laptop kept me away from my pile of e-books that are waiting to be read & reviewed, so a good old fashioned physical book was a welcome sight for this knuckle head.
First off, our story is told in journal format, so those familiar with such books as The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (for us Twin Peaks fans), and the short story The Mist from Stephen King’s book Skeleton Crew (which coincidentally, there will be a lot of comparison between The Mist and Brian’s novel, but I’ll get into that later), you will be on familiar ground here. The journal is written from the point of view of Robbie, pizza delivery guy extraordinaire from the small town of Walden, Virginia. The story’s premise is a simple one; the residents of Walden wake up one morning to find their town surrounded by a wall of inky, oily blackness. No sun, no stars, no sky, no running water, no electricity, no radio or TV signals… they seem to be cut off from the rest of the world.
However, beyond this simple set up is a tale that takes a long walk off the short pier of “a bad situation” and falls into the pit of despair, without a parachute no less. As the story goes on, we discover that the wall of darkness is not quite so solid and people can walk freely into it. But no one who’s gone into it has returned; only their muffled screams of terror seem to make it back into town. Even worse, it seems as if the wall of darkness is alive… and hungry. As if all this still wasn’t bad enough, the resident-prisoners trapped within Walden are going feral and primitive in a hurry. Robbie tells a merciless tale of witnessing the human spirit buckle and collapse like a faulty bridge as time goes on.
Robbie isn’t one to just give up and join the ranks of the lord of the flies however, and with the help of his girlfriend Christy, a few neighbors within his apartment building, and a few of remaining town residents, he tries to find a way of re-connecting with the world, and to help the town keep some order and control amongst themselves. His trials and tribulations however become harder and harder for him to keep up as the city collapses in on itself and the trust and safety between his group (and even himself) is jeopardized. In my useless opinion, it gets to the point where it might be safer going into the darkness than to stay in town! This is not a happy little tale Mr. Keene has spun here folks. It’s oppressive and downright depressing to read, especially as you begin to realize that his scribes probably aren’t that far from the truth where human despair and depravity are concerned. This is horror of the most horrible kind having a fire sale, and everyone must go!
Fans that’ve followed Brian’s previous books are in for a few extra rewards in this book. This book follows the “mythos” Brian has been building with his books, such as Castaways, Dark Hollow (my favorite of his works that I’ve read thus far), Ghost Walk (which introduced the ex-Amish, powwow magus and bad ass Levi Stoltzfus.) and possibly others that I’ve not read yet. Through the character of Dez, a homeless guy who seems to have the only clue as to what’s going on with the darkness, you come to realize that this book reads something along the lines of “this is what would have happened in Ghost Walk if Levi wasn’t there to save the world.” After reading this, all I can say is god bless Levi!
Like I mentioned earlier, I can’t imagine people reading this and not noticing the similarity between it and The Mist. Well, to that I say that this is not a form of “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” as there are plenty of differences and situations. The biggest difference I’ll give offhand is that I’d rather face “the mist” over “the darkness” any day! In fact, Brian cleverly adds a reference to The Mist at one point (I won’t spoil what or where it is; it’s worth reading for the humor.) So while there are plenty of similarities (it’s even open ended like The Mist), it still comes off as being unique enough to stand on its own, especially under Brian’s raw and brutal writing.
The last note to bring up gives me all sorts of gleeful smiles. The end of the book includes an advanced look at Brian’s next novel, A Gathering of Crows. It’s more then an advanced look actually, it’s the entire first chapter. And not only was the first chapter enough to get me excited and looking forward to reading it, it hints at the return of that ex-Amish, powwow magus bad ass Levi Stoltzfus I mentioned earlier. I loved the character Levi from Ghost Walk and so I’m thrilled to see him coming back to deliver more cans of powwow powered whoop ass!
For those who dig Brian’s work, or for those who enjoy a good bashing of the nerves and heavy weighing on the heart as you witness humanity collapse like a house of cards in an avalanche, this one’s a must read! Mr. Keene is still in as fine and horrific form as ever with Darkness on the Edge of Town, and I for one solute his efforts at beating the literary crap out of me in the short span of a mere 264 pages.
Review by Steven Dawes