Monday, 6 October 2008

‘Body Count’ – Shaun Hutson (Orbit Books)

What with it being October and all I thought that it would be the done thing for at least some of my reading, this month, to be of the scary/supernatural/horror kind. With this in mind I picked up Shaun Hutson’s ‘Body Count’, which made it into the shops just a couple of days ago, to get an early dose.
Hutson is well known for his horror novels, I read a couple sometime last year and was left in no doubt that this is an author who likes to take things right to the very edge... and then push them over. I wasn’t too sure about some of the results but could not deny that Hutson’s books are a very intense read indeed!
I knew I’d be in for a fast paced tale, that didn’t stint on the gore, and I certainly got what I was expecting with ‘Body Count’. Was it ‘horror’ though? I don’t know...

Masked men are being killed one by one in elaborate ‘cat and mouse’ snuff videos that are then broadcast onto the internet. Detective Inspector Joe Chapman is the policeman tasked with solving this mystery but his mind is on finding his seventeen year old daughter who has run away from home. Chapman is a man on the edge and when events push him over he finds himself in a place where he can unravel the two mysteries that have taken over his life. Bad luck for Chapman then that he’s the star guest in the latest video... If Chapman thought he already knew his limits he’s about to be very surprised at what they really are...

‘Body Count’ starts with a man running for his life and maintains this break-neck pace throughout a plot that bursts with adrenaline and is punctuated with liberal doses of gore. I read this book in one sitting, not so much because of any appeal the book held but more because the speed of the plot didn’t give me time to put the book down!

It’s a different tale but all the same ingredients (from previous books) are still there; mainly the gore but also a cop driven over the edge by what he sees on the job and a sense that you cannot rely on the law to provide justice. If you want justice, or revenge, then you have to take matters into your own hands... It’s a formula that seems to have worked for Hutson, so far, which leads me to conclude that fans are going to love it just as much as his other books.

I wasn’t so sure though.

Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty about the book that kept me interested and reading. I’ve already mentioned the pace of the story and Hutson is very adept at stringing the reader along then hitting them with a cliff-hanger that they never saw coming. He’s good with moments of spectacle as well ranging from cinematic explosions to eviscerations that will give you a new insight into the workings of your own body... (I’m serious about that by the way; if you’re squeamish at all then you may want to give this one a miss. Hutson doesn’t hold much back, if anything...)

I’ve mentioned this before (about Hutson’s books) but the veering towards moments of cinema sometimes harms ‘Body Count’ in that there are certain things cinema does that will only work on the big screen. Chapman flips out and kills a man and while a movie would carry you past this (not giving you too much time to think about what you’ve seen) the fact that it was written down meant that I was able to stop and think, ‘hang on a second...’
There was nothing to suggest that Chapman was provoked or lost his temper for any other reason than to get him in a position where he would be ready for the main part of the plot. This wouldn’t have been a big deal on screen, where it could have been shown visually that he was cracking up, but it just didn’t work for me in the book itself.

I was also left wondering whether ‘Body Count’ was a work of horror or simply a police thriller written by a horror author. ‘Body Count’ makes it clear that people are capable of some pretty horrifying acts and that we can be worse monsters than the ones we make up for ourselves. In that respect, ‘Body Count’ is horror fiction but the complete lack of a supernatural element had me feeling that this one sneaked under my radar and that I’d been caught out, expecting the book to be something that it wasn’t. It’s purely a case of personal preference, I like my horror to have supernatural beasts (ghouls etc) doing the rending of human flesh and ‘Body Count’ just isn’t that kind of book…

I reckon that if you’re a hard-core fan of Hutson’s work then you’ll enjoy ‘Body Count’ as much as of any of his other works. I’m still to be fully convinced though, I had fun with it but was left wondering if Hutson needs to decide whether he is writing a screenplay or a book…

Seven out of Ten

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