Friday, 7 September 2012

Book Review - Urban Gothic (Brian Keene)

Brian Keene returns to form in this breathless tale where generic haunted house fiction meets The Hills Have Eyes. After 'The Rising', 'City of the Dead' and 'Dead Sea' I've had high expectations of Keene, and although not that impressed by 'Ghoul', 'Urban Gothic' will not disappoint his growing army of readers. This is not a book for the faint-hearted however, as Keene unleashes a slashing, bashing gore-fest on downtown America.

Some posh kids stumble into one of the less desirable areas of Philadelphia looking to score some drugs rather than soft cheese. Typically their car breaks down and chased by some of the local homeboys they flee into a nearby haunted house to hide, as you do. Sounds like my journey to work most days. You can more or less guess the rest, as the six buddies enjoy a torrid experience inside the spooky old house, with some or all of them receiving some nasty cuts, abrasions and grazed knees.

It's great fun if you like that kind of thing and even has the added bonus of a social comment based sub-plot, where Keene documents the decline of the old American sense of community, the ghettoisation of deprived areas and the stereotypical view of black youths in the hood. The homies and their middle aged leader are a particular highlight as they come charging to the rescue and ultimately re-unite the whole community - hurray!

The only downside is that Keeno goes a bit over the top with the violence and gore in a book that doesn't really need it. The atmosphere of the house and its labyrinthine cellars is such an excellent location for the story that we really only need to follow some well-defined characters into its depths to fully enjoy the whole scenario. Unfortunately the plot whizzes along so fast and with so much splatter that we only gain a surface knowledge and empathy of the characters, when another two hundred pages was probably needed to fully exploit the potential of the wonderfully created subterranean environment.

Problems aside this is a high paced, enjoyable read and is only a zombie tuna away from one of Keene's best.


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