Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
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Monday, November 01, 2010Ghoul by Brian Keene
It's time for me to start on my Brian Keene backlog. Following The Rising, Castaways and Urban Gothic, it's now time for...
Timmy lives with his parents next to an old church with an ancient graveyard. His friend Barrie is the son of the cemetery caretaker, and his other friend Doug lives with his alcoholic mother. It's the summer of 1984, and while the boys have plans to sit around listening to Slade and the newer bands like Metallica, playing Atari and generally goofing around, fate has different ideas. Barrie's heavily alcoholic and violent father has broken a stone tablet in the graveyard that kept a creature sleeping beneath the ground. Now that creature is out, feasting on the dead and searching for a female...
I don't know what it was about the opener, but I got the impression that I wouldn't enjoy this book. It bordered on tacky, but in hindsight, perhaps was written this way on purpose, as it read like a scene from one of the many slasher flicks predominant at the time. The dialogue is grown worthy, and the plot of two young lovers getting it on under the moon in a graveyard? Seeing a figure that isn't there a split second later? I was hoping that the rest of the novel wasn't like this.
And it wasn't! The main characters are very sympathetic and surprisingly likable. In one scene, Timmy's world is destroyed by his father, and I don't mean with violence or anything sexual...but by god it hits you. You're there and know that something similar happened to you with your parents at that age.
The gore is there, but lighter compared to other Keene books. The Ghoul himself is actually quite likable as antagonist. He even speaks like Thor at times, which is always a plus for me.He has simple needs and just wants to get on with his existence, even if that means eating corpses and raping women in tunnels (no pun intended).
My favourite chapter of the book follows the ghoul as he eats the corpses in the graveyard, telling the lives of each one, be them good or bad, and how they all ended up with the same fate: dead and food for the ghoul.
There's a great spirit of adventure and preadolescent awakening in the trio of boys, and I think this is why the book works so well. With, say three teenagers on camp dealing with this, or three 20 somethings at college discovering a ghoul...this book might have been a flop. It's not the creature, nor the setting that make this novel, it's those boys. Most of us had that one perfect summer when we were around 12, and this book brings back all those memories. Not that I had to fight a ghoul back in Wigan in 1992, you understand.
This was a startling little gem of a book, with better character development than other Keene books (even the supporting characters have their interesting quirks) and a story that pulls you in. It was a perfect read for Halloween and certainly worth a look. Keene fans should certainly have this towards the top end of their favourites.