Monday, 23 July 2012

'Jack's Magic Beans' - Brian Keene (Deadite Press)

If I'm being completely honest, the main reason I downloaded the Kindle App (to my phone) was that I was stupidly impressed at how easy downloading stuff is and couldn't stop myself. Since then though I've been discovering that there are a lot of benefits to having the app, one of which is being able to catch up with Brian Keene's back catalogue. I'm talking about all the little short stories and novellas that were snapped up and gone before I even realised that they were there to start off with... Thanks to Deadite Press that shouldn't be a problem for me any more, they're working hard to publish all the stuff where the rights have reverted to Keene, which can only be good news for a fan like me (especially when I can get it on my phone in under a minute...)

'Jack's Magic Beans' was the first one of Keene's books published by Deadite and one that I'd had my eye on for a long time (always eager to read new stuff by Brian Keene). It was a bit of a surprise then to see what felt like a whole new style employed in a collection of stories that were a lot shorter than any of his books that I'd read previously.

What you're looking at here are tales where time (and space) constraints mean that everything is stripped right back to the bare minimum so that as much energy, and gore, as possible can be fitted in to keep things moving along. Things move at a hellish pace because of this but I found myself missing the characterisation and scene setting that I always enjoy. That's not to say it isn't a fair trade off, these are different kinds of tales here that require a different approach to function effectively. Things just felt a little more shallow that in his longer books, this new side of Keene's work will take some getting used to...

I couldn't help but enjoy the book though with its combination of raw surging energy, over the top gore (which sometimes got in the way of the story but even so...) and clever little ideas that have it all making sense. 'Jack's Magic Beans' is the main event here and Keene operates very well within such tight parameters. It's a very 'in your face' piece, with graphic depictions of violence, but the questions Keene raises (at the same time) build up the tension very nicely. I particularly liked the way things are left very open ended at the finish. Anything could happen and Keene leaves you to draw your own conclusions.

'Without You' was paerhaps a little too short to really work for me; by the time you cotton on to what's going on the story has ended. A little change in focus could have worked wonders here (did we really need all that detail about the main character's life?) but the twist in the tale is worth the price of entry here. A pretty emphatic suicide rendered useless by four little words...

'I am an Exit' and 'This is not an Exit' are two tales, about a serial killer, that had me wanting to hear more about him (the afterword says there might be more as well). For my money these were the best two tales in the collection; really creepy with just enough given away to pique the interest of the reader. The violence and gore are also dialled right back and this makes the moments when something does happen all the more powerful.

Keene signs off with 'The King', In: Yellow', a tale of a play that will drive you insane if you ever see it. Keene really taps into the effect this play will have on you (you can feel the fear and Keene pulls the curtain right back on the insanity that follows) but there was nothing to the play itself that would suggest such a reaction. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not but it felt like the two elements of the plot just weren't gelling for me.

I had a lot of fun with this collection but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to someone reading Keene for the first time. There is a lot to recommend 'Jack's Magic Beans' but Keene does it all a lot better in his longer books. 'Dark Hollow', 'A Gathering of Crows' or 'Urban Gothic'; check them out first.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

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