Like most new authors, Aaron Dries has held many jobs. My own list is almost as interesting as his; pizza boy, retail clerk, kitchen hand, aged care worker… stuff like that. He is also a video director and illustrator which sold me on his talents before, during, and after reading his second novel, The Fallen Boys.
Unlike most new authors, he was picked up by genre-fan-favorite Samhain Horror with no more than one published short story under his belt. After entering what would become his first novel in the Leisure Books / Rue Morgue/ Chizine Publications “Fresh Blood” contest, and winning the competition, House of Sighs was released by Samhain Horror in 2011.
Those in the know, know why the swap from Leisure to Samhain went down, so we don’t need to have a recent-history lesson here. Suffice it to say, this new Australian author was basically shot out of a cannon and survived to write another book.
Trilogy alert! Now, I have not read House of Sighs yet but according to the authors website, both books form the beginning of an ‘unofficial trilogy’. So we can expect more. Good!
Now, what sold me was the trailer. We are awash in the sea of crappy book trailers. I watch a lot of them though it is a trial of self-flagellation to do so. When a gem shines in the panning river fed by the sea of crap, I do follow that current and usually buy the book. The blurbs were good, Samhain is solid, and the cover art drew me in.
While the book stuck to my expectations from the trailer and initial blurbs for the Samhain website, right off the bat I was impressed that the story spoke to me aside from the obvious sell. Being a huge fan of dark, splatter and literary horror, there were elements of suicide, doppelgängerism and troubled youth. It sounded like a witches-brew of awesome to me, of course!
“The road to forgiveness is covered in blood!
Marshall Deakins has tried to come to terms with the tragic suicide of his young son. But it still tortures him. His search for answers will lead him down a twisted path paved with secrets and grotesque lies. Instead of peace he finds madness, held captive as part of a deranged plan filled with suffering…and blood. As the nature of his captors’ insanity is revealed, Marshall will need to confront the truth about his son and his own past if he hopes to have a future.”
Then, the surprise. I actually felt I could identify with the characters. Workaholic video editors, a misfit dreadlocked chick, gay asian BFF and horror author name dropping galore; Dries neatly side-stepped all the pitfalls that have me yawning over the world he needs to draw me into as a reader. No soccer-mom or hockey-dad in sight. No couples keeping it together night after night by drinking the popular wine pick and having perfect sex while eating whatever sandwich the foodies have us believe we are all eating. After the initial and creepy carnival style death, strain begins to tear the main relationship apart. Awesome. Good. I felt I was in familiar territory. Sorry folks, I don’t need your love songs. I need despair in my horror and to me the strong marriage and loving relationship is the stuff of fairy tales. Want me to feel for your heroes and villains? Make them hate. Make them hurt. Make them real. Creating tension by threatening the mundane is a tired tactic. There is no mundane in Dries’ world. Everything is on tenterhooks from the word go… then he threatens that. Wonderful stuff!
So, by the middle off the book I was sold. At this rate, the writing could have taken a nosedive (it didn’t) but I’d have tagged along just to find out what happened next and more about what drove the main character’s son to suicide.
A great story with a fairly original scenario is a tough road these days. Dries’ language sheds a dark light on nearly familiar situations such as work and family life. The unfamiliar is the duality of a family trying hard to make it work then coming face to face with the mysterious and lurking online threat. Couple that with the blood frenzied insanity going on in the countryside, and you are left with fizzing, unstable elements that are ready to blow.
And the ending! Well.
While the talent and tone remained constant the style is where I nit picked. The use of italics was my sticking point, said best in my goodreads.com review…
“Where I deduct a star (or only a half-star if I could)is for some overly long passages that only a parent could love… and even then one with a flair for sympathy. That is only a part of it, the rest is style. Italics were used quite heavily and in several spots took away from the rhythm for me. The memories being in italics made sense, but i prefer them as a light seasoning only in the plain body. Then a few typos, but that is not the fault of the author in my opinion. The content easily smooths out these small bumps, since it is a damn good read.”
Speaking of goodreads, I have to mention that many reviews label this as torture-porn, which it is not. The gore-hound in me wanted more. The reader in me was more than satisfied with the amount of pain and torture since Dries never goes over the top. In fact, it seems he held back to not be lumped into the ranks of so-called torture-porn or splatter horror.There is a vividly painted picture of pain here, with wider brushstrokes than your own warped imaginations would have you believe. The terror is found in what he doesn’t write. The torment is in the ideas he injects into your mind, leaving you to decide how bloody things really got.
So, if you have not had enough convincing, Aaron Dries himself has created a graphic novel of the prologue. Check it out as it is free of spoilers and just as compelling as the other promotional aids that worked to draw me in. Find out more at the author’s site, aarondries.com.