Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Lamplighters by Frazer Lee

It is rare to find a book that can combine so many different styles and attack you on every front.  That is what the Stoker nominated novel, The Lamplighters will do to you.  Prepare to get out your Hawaiian shirt, flip flops and sunscreen as we take a trip through Frazer Lee’s brilliant story.  Just don’t forget to keep checking your back because this paradise isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

From Samhain:

Marla Neuborn has found the best post-grad job in the world – as a ‘Lamplighter’ working on Meditrine Island, an exclusive idyllic paradise owned and operated by a consortium of billionaires. All Lamplighters have to do is tend to the mansions, cook and clean, and turn on lights to make it appear the owners are home. But the job comes with conditions. Marla will not know the exact location of the island, and she will have no contact with the outside world for the duration of her stay.

Once on the island, Marla quickly learns the billionaire lifestyle is not all it is made out to be. The chief of security rules Meditrine with an iron fist. His private police force patrols the shores night and day, and CCTV cameras watch The Lamplighters relentlessly. Soon Marla will also discover first-hand that the island hides a terrible secret. She’ll meet the resident known as the Skin Mechanic. And she’ll find out why so few Lamplighters ever leave the island alive.

Frazer Lee has crafted one wild story.  Everything about The Lamplighters is put in place to engage the reader and draw them into this strangely fascinating world.  The characters are all just flawed enough to make them realistic, yet retain enough nobility to keep us rooting for them.  They smoke, they drink and they encounter hardship- just like us.  The only difference is we have to face our problems while the characters in story have the option to escape to an island paradise although given the island’s secrets, I’m not sure that escape is much better. There is an ample dose of mystery to keep the pages turning at a breakneck speed as we are treated to a mysterious killer, a crazy old lighthouse keeper and a security team led by one of the most ruthless characters you’re liable to run into. The reader is never able to get a firm grasp on the goings on of the island until the insanely unexpected climax. Think the mystery of ‘Lost’ mixed with the bizarre beauty of Dario Argento and you might just be close to The Lamplighters .

The true success of THE LAMPILIGHTERS lies in Lee’s ability to birth beautiful imagery with his prose.  Meditrine Island is a lush tropical locale that is painted with painstakingly fine detail as it wisps the reader away into a land of lush greens, vibrant oranges and juicy reds.  This is the real deal people.  When reading the book, I could not help but draw comparisons to the Giallo genre.  Whenever I am jonesin’ for a vacation, I can put in a Bava or Martino and simply escape to faraway lands for 90 minutes.  These directors understood that vivid scenery played a vital role in the story, much like Lee does. The man does such a wonderful job that I would be willing to plan my next vacation to Meditrine Island, despite my knowledge of its dark underbelly.  That is the mark of a master wordsmith.

At its core, The Lamplighters is superb story that teases the readers with all the subtle nuances of the genre.  Lee has a great knowledge of the genre as he mixes elements of subtle psychological horror with the over-the-top gore and sex of those Leisure pioneers, Laymon and Ketchum.  This keeps the reader on their toes because Lee has the ability to gracefully torment your mind by working his way into your psyche or, if he so chooses, he can crack your skull open with violent blows from a splintered 4 x 4.

The Lamplighters is fast paced, unforgiving and flat-out fun.  Basically, the story is everything that one should expect from Samhain and genre fiction in general.  The Lamplighters marks the emergence of Frazer Lee as an elite voice in the genre.  I expect to hear more from him in years to come.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Cage by Brian Keene

Brian Keene has a knack for writing some of the most powerful novella length fiction in the genre.  His no-nonsense style is well suited for format.  Most authors introduce us to the characters and then allow the plot to unfold around them but Keene is a completely different animal.  One of the strongest aspects of Keene’s writing is his ability to mesh character development with plot to form a fast paced, suffocating story that gets right to the action and rarely relents.  This delightfully streamlined style allows Keene to tell a novel length story over the span of a hundred pages.  With that in mind, I was absolutely delighted when I learned that Deadite Press would be releasing a paperback version of the long out-of-print novella, The Cage


For the employees of Big Bill’s Home Electronics, it’s just the end of another workday – until a gunman bursts into the store and begins shooting. Now, with some of their co-workers dead, the hostages are being slaughtered one-by-one, and if they want to survive the night, they’ll have to escape… The Cage.

As described in the summary, the story follows a group of six electronics store employees who are at the mercy of a madman.  This man breaks into the store after-hours and locks the group up in the store room for very mysterious, yet surely sinister reasons.  The majority of the story takes place in the store room as we play voyeur to the interactions of the employees, all while the mysterious intruder is busy in the front of the store.  One-by-one the man brings the employees to the front of the store leaving the remaining hostages to wonder what exactly is happening on the other side of the warehouse doors.

The Cage is the perfect marriage of youthful hope, world-worn wisdom, nerve wracking tension and some gore soaked imagery that will leave your jaw hanging and your unmentionables soiled. What makes this story so damn engrossing is Keene’s ability to intertwine genuine supernatural terror with the everyday horrors that we all experience in our lives.  The villain in the story will get your blood pumping and your palms sweating but the reason this tale will resonate with readers is the trials and tribulations of the common man.  It is completely evident that Keene knows quite a bit about strife and pain.  The characters in The Cage discuss topics such as love lost, growing older and loneliness with such raw authenticity that the reader has no choice but to succumb to the story’s power. There is a certain power in prose that is born from a world of sweat and hardship. Keene wields that power with a reckless abandoned that only few in the genre can ever hope to harness.

It was also interesting to notice the subtle shift in style with the dichotomy between the real life fears and supernatural elements.  Keene wrote the conversations between the store employees with copious amounts pain and grit sprinkled in the interactions.  These are the conversations that we have had a thousand times yet they continue to be important because they are is the lifeblood of our daily routines and existence. Much like the author himself, there is no pretense with the characters and their interactions as the wear their hearts on their sleeves on every page. There is exchange that was particularly heart wrenching between Roy, the older warehouse employee and the younger store employees that I found to be especially heart wrenching :

“Your kids don’t know you, your wife barely tolerates you. You’re a stranger in your own house. And a stranger in the mirror, too. And when that happens, you look back on the last few decades and wonder where they went.”

These moments of gritty truth make the juxtaposition of the super natural so much more extreme. When Keene  isn’t describing the inner-turmoil of the Big Bill’s employees, his writing takes on a cinematic quality that would not be out of place in the world of Cronenberg or Lynch.  The main villain in The Cage is donned in black and sports an arsenal that would make Frank Castle giddy.  Keene creates one frightening villain who nonchalantly goes about his grisly business with the indifference of a T-1000.  I use the Teminator example because this dude is straight out of a late 80’s action film but still maintains a surreal presence that is common with Keene’s other works..  Keene himself seems to realize the cinematic leanings of his writing as the characters joke about the clich├ęs of action films. There is a particularly humorous exchange when the trapped employees attempt to lighten the mood by discussing how their ideal action film would play out.

The Cage comes to a very satisfying finale with absolutely every element of the story getting heightened to extreme volumes (literally and figuratively). Blood flows, hearts break and evil is everywhere.  Much like some of my favorite Keene stories, everything ends as it should.  The ending is in keeping with the rest of the tale with no surprises.  It is always refreshing to read a story that does not stray from a previously established tone and plot in order to achieve a gimmicky twist.

This is a story that is perfect for those looking for a quick scare.  It is also a story that is MANDATORY reading for Keene fans that have an interest in his Labyrinth mythology.  Readers are treated to some added content as well. Included are three short stories that share the same themes and tone of The Cage , as well as accompanying ‘Author’s Notes’ which add a tremendous amount of insight.
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