Book review: Red, by Paul Kane

June 28th, 2009

red-front-cover21Paul Kane’s an author I’ve kept my eye on ever since his short fiction began appearing regularly in the genre small press in the late 1990s. Over the last few years his output has been unnaturally prolific and of a very high standard. This is evidenced by a strong showing on the Long List of the British Fantasy Society’s latest Awards: Kane’s first novel The Afterblight Chronicles: Arrowhead is up for Best Novel; two titles, Reunion, and Red are up for Best Novella, and no less than four of his short stories are up for that particular Award: A Chaos Demon is for Life, Lifelike, The Suicide Room, and Wind Chimes, (which I thought was the outstanding story in the third Bloody Books’ Read by Dawn anthology from last year).

Red is a contemporary take on the classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. Far removed from the quaint childhood we imagine for the little girl in the original tale Rachael Daniels, an aspiring actress, lives in a grey urban environment, just about making a living as a careworker whilst enduring the frustrations she understands will come her way at the onset of her chosen career. Already a little jaded, she’s recently broken up with her boyfriend, and dreads walking the streets after dark as the city is a threatening place wit its hoodies and vast concrete estates, such as the Greenham Estate which is where her favourite client lives, the 80 year old Miss Tilly Brindle.Rachael’s right to be cautious there’s a serial killer stalking the streets of the city. Not your average stalk’n'slash weirdo, this character has a long, long history and a grudge to match. Kane subtly provides insights into his thinking, his geneaology, whilst evoking the years of killings as he sits and observes the hussle and bustle of the city, choosing his next victim:

Sitting on a bench, he surveyed the shoppers on this busy Friday afternoon. In the old country, he could have just picked one off as they walked by, but populations had dwindled where he used to operate so very long ago, mainly due to his antics – it had to be said. And trackers wishing to make a name for themselves had come looking for him back in those days. For their insolence (there was no greater hunter than him, he was the king), he’d sent them away with their tales between their legs – if indeed he’d left them with any tail at all. But all good things came to an end, and when he was forced to move on, he found it was actually a blessing in disguise. It was a big, wide world out there. And who was going to notice what he was up to when mankind took such a great joy in doing the very same thing to itself, time and time again? The perfect playground. The perfect hunting ground.

It’s during this scene that the beast notices Rachael as she walks past. Lost in the sea of shoppers, it uses its one instinct that still remains effective in today’s ambiently-deafening society: it smells her, and her blood reveals itself to have a particularly personal and shared history…

Kane cleverly uses the various characters and victims as visceral pathways and bridges for the beast. He plays with both the reader and Rachael, lulling us as it engineers its course towards her, circling her literally through the flesh and blood of those she encounters in her daily life. As it shapeshifts it takes on their personas as best it can, convincingly over short time spans (which is normally all the time it needs) it charms and confuses, until ultimately it is unable to hide its true nature as its century-spanning hunger and lust for revenge explodes from behind the thin facades it creates in scenes of bone-crunching ferocity.

As with the beast, so with the book: over 70 impactful pages, and without wasting a word, Paul Kane has enriched the werewolf mythos with a seamless re-imagining of a hypnotically suggestive fairy tale, embellishing it with the harsh, alluring scent of an ages-old psychosexual predator who easily rivals that other undead villain from Eastern European folklore, the vampire.

A relentless and grisly fairy tale for dark times, Red is filled with the blackest blood from the deepest parts of our bodies, and is thoroughly recommended.

Red is published by America’s Skullvines Press so might be a little difficult to obtain over here, but go directly to their website or get in touch with the author, and I guarantee your efforts will be rewarded.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

Entry Filed under: Book Reviews

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