Tuesday, 2 June 2009

‘Urban Gothic’ – Brian Keene

One of the things I look forward to every year is the latest slice of horror by Brian Keene. Yep, I’ll confess right away that I’m a fan so you might want to bear that in mind when reading the rest of this review. He’s good though; check out ‘Castaways’, ‘Dark Hollow’ and ‘Dead Sea’ if you’re a horror fan. You won’t regret it!
I polished off ‘Castaways’ last year and have spent most of this year waiting to see what happened next following on from the ‘Urban Gothic’ teaser. A couple of days ago the book came through the door and I finally got my chance to find out. Is ‘Urban Gothic’ Keene’s best book yet? I think it could well be...

What’s worse than your car breaking down? Breaking down in a rough neighbourhood in the middle of the night. Could anything be worse than waiting for help and wondering what that gang of kids, on the corner of the street, are about to do? Kerri and her friends are about to find out...
That abandoned house, at the end of the street, is anything but. The inhabitants may not get out much but they are far worse than anything on the street outside. Kerri and her friends will find out whether they’ve got what it takes to make it through a night in a house where death is actually the best thing that can happen to anyone caught inside...

For me, the measure of a horror novel (or movie) can be found in the physical reactions that it inspires. For example, Stephen King’s ‘Cell’ barely registered a polite exclamation while George Romero’s ‘Day of the Dead’ left me feeling more than a little sick. On at least three occasions, ‘Urban Gothic’ had me swearing out loud as something utterly grotesque happened to a hapless teenager. It also had me doing that thing where you try and close your eyes, to avoid seeing a particular scene, but you’re still watching at the same time. I even found myself holding the book at arms length in an attempt to protect myself from what lurked in the caverns underneath the house. I loved it.

If you’re a Brian Keene fan; take your favourite book of his and double the gore, the tension and that sense of the apocalypse that bubbles under all of his work. What you will end up with is ‘Urban Gothic’, a book that hooks you with a talon and drags you headlong into a nightmare that you’ll be glad to wake up from.

From the second that the front door closed I was at Keene’s mercy and you will be too. The plot may be simplistic (a group of teenagers escaping from... you’ll have to read it and see) but the way it is executed is sublime. Keene switches effortlessly between long drawn out moments of tension and headlong adrenalin fuelled moments of terror. The gore flows freely throughout the book and you will be left in no doubt as to what our heroes must walk through in order to survive...

Keene also paints a brooding and ominous backdrop for the story to take place against. The house itself is a maze of corridors where a wrong footstep can be lethal. There’s a real sense of claustrophobia that bleeds off the page; corridors can run into dead ends and doors might not be where you last saw them. There are also no windows and this has the effect of focusing the plot, no gazing at the scenery outside! When you get below the house though, that’s where the fun begins with a underground cavern that is Hell on Earth and reminiscent of Keene’s other work (could this be an entrance to the Labyrinth?)
Outside isn’t much better, a collection of dark streets in a rough neighbourhood. Appearances can be deceptive though, in stark contrast to the ‘in your face terror’ of the house, good can be found in these mean streets and this ends up in another dose of terror being added to the plot just when you thought it couldn’t go any further.

The teenagers stranded in the house are your standard collection of horror fodder, all there to be chased and die in a variety of amusing manners (I would love to see this made into a film...) To Keene’s credit though, he doesn’t have them all running around like a bunch of headless chickens, there’s real character development in play here which adds an extra incentive for the reader to stick around. Can Brett apply logic to escape the house? Will Javier’s new found courage be enough?

‘Urban Gothic’ knocks ‘Dark Hollow’ into second place to take up position as my new favourite Brian Keene book. Fans will love this latest addition; newcomers could jump right on here and have a blast like I did (it’s loosely connected with the other books but ‘Urban Gothic’ stands on it’s own). Highly recommended for horror fans.

Ten out of Ten

7 comments:

Harrison Holtz said...

This book sounds really interesting. I'm going to have to track down a copy.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Graeme Flory said...

No worries Harrison :o) If you're a horror fan then this is definitely worth a look...

Anonymous said...

The following is my favorite sentence~"If you’re a Brian Keene fan; take your favourite book of his and double the gore, the tension and that sense of the apocalypse that bubbles under all of his work." A very accurate statement! I love extreme horror so I was glad to see Brian write a book like URBAN GOTHIC. After I pre read the novel I told Brian he may really turn off some of the mainstream fans but fans of writers such as Edward Lee and Wrath James White are gonna love it. Brian took my comment as a compliment, that Keene is one twisted individual, HA.

Graeme Flory said...

Brian's been pretty extreme in the past but he really ramped things up for 'Urban Gothic'! The more extreme the better :o)

The Doctor said...

His most extreme yet?
Wow, I'm really looking forward to this one. Keene rarely disappoints.

Gefilte Fist said...

This book is amazing. I am reading it now for the 2nd time. Rarely do I ever read books more than once but this one is well worth it. If you haven't heard of Brian Keene, read this one. It will scare the crap out of you!

gothic fantasy art said...

Sounds interesting................