(2002-09-30)Medium Rare Books
New books, new authors and new publishers are a dime a dozen these days, or so it seems, with the American small press regularly spawning new imprints and micro presses and POD publishers ad nauseum, all rushing to release the same old tired ideas - more garbage being pumped out in the name of lit-rat-yur than Johan Gutenburg could ever have dreamed of. This isn't a soapbox bitching session, quite the opposite, books like Harry Shannon's intense debut novel, Night of The Beast, go a long way to restoring ones faith in the small press.
Shannon harbours no great pretensions at creating High Art (his capitalisation), instead he concentrates of delivering exactly what the average horror reader is looking for: pages packed with jaw-dropping horrors and gut-wrenching pain. Night of The Beast is tight and well crafted, and on all levels Shannon delivers. Night of The Beast is a welcome break from the run of the mill drek that is being unleashed upon the unsuspected public by xlibris, iuniverse and Ybother.
Shannon knows his literary heritage and is proud of it, revelling in references to the genre subculture and utilises a style that seamlessly blends the slow methodical build-up of tension and scene-setting of a Stephen King with more than enough in-your-face pay-offs to satisfy fans of the gory splatterpunk days. Shannon's voice at times echoes some of the truly great writers of our time, with a keen eye for observation and unlikely detail that rivals the likes of John D. McDonald.
That isn't to say Night of the Beast is perfect. It isn't but has a passion that more than makes up for the imperfections. It is a first novel by a relatively new publisher, but despite an annoying amount of typographical errors that should really have been snuffed out long before the book went to press, and a cover that really does Shannon's chance of bookshelf presence no favours whatsoever.
It isn't an easy book. The story of Two Trees, Nevada is one of consummate pain and loneliness, and a sense of helplessness pervades the text. The plot is a little too familiar for it to be pushing boundaries but that familiarity adds to rather than detracts from the book's appeal. Indeed, I find myself almost deliberately not wanting to delve into the plot itself here, suffice it to say that Rourke, the star of what is essentially an ensemble novel, local boy made good in the big city, producer of Sour Candy (who are spookily reminiscent of Iron Maiden but with a sexier lead vocalist) is coming home, with all the lousy timing of a hero in a horror novel. Bad things are afoot in Two Trees: Satanic rites, sacrilegious obscenities, and hints of necrophilia, rape and murder to name but a few. Shannon keeps the action coming thick and fast, piling on the chills as we creep closer and closer to the final Night of the Beast. It is a lot for a sleepy little town in the middle of the desert to cope with but it makes damned fun reading.
Shannon is raw and passionate and blunt and crammed full of the kind of energy that the horror field has been lacking for years. Night of the Beast is a great book for fans of traditional horror ala King, Koontz, and Laymon. It can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best that the traditional publishing houses have to offer as we slide towards 2003, and I suspect that Harry Shannon will be around for a long time to come. He is the real deal.
Review by Steve Savile
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