Disclaimer: Please note this review reflects the opinion of the team at ScaryMinds and should in no way be construed as
representing the views of the AHWA Shadows Award Judges. This review is for the edification of ScaryMinds readers and does not constitute a
“literary criticism” or any other criteria the Shadows Judging panel may take this year.
“Come on then, Don! Think you're man enough to take me?” - Roger
Don is happily engaged to Bev and aspires to be a horror novelist while working in a dead-end job as a chemist. He purchases a second hand laptop to help with his writing and discovers the previous owner had forgotten to delete an incrimanting file. Brian Rathbone not only has to look after his son Sam, but also hunt things that go bump in the night. Both Don and Brian are drawn to Samhane as they run afoul of “The Order” and have loved ones put at risk by members of the satanic cult. Can Don and Brian defeat the gruesome Roger, a paedo Clown, and the fearsome Mr Belvedere, or will Samhane sink into eternal chaos and damnation?
Lurking at the extreme edge of the dark genre are writers such as Richard Laymon, Brett McBean, and Shaun Hutson*. Writers who go that one step beyond what most would consider acceptable subject matter. Well add another name to the list, Daniel I. Russell, an ex-pat Brit working out of Western Australia who takes no prisoners with his novel Samhane. If you want to know the writing style, then think Hutson, on a dark stormy night, in a rubbish littered alley, with a switch blade, begging you to take a step forward into the dark to see how the blade shines. Russell writes with a conservative English style, goes for the jugular, and delivers a novel that will have you turning the pages faster than when you last suffered the effects of a three day speed binge. I love finding a writer I haven't run across before, and it's even better when said writer is prepared to get down into the horror trenches and get jiggy with it. Lets clear the spilt viscera and see what's happening in Samhane.
If you haven't picked up on the vibe yet, then be aware that Samhane is not for the faint hearted. We're talking dismemberment, torture, rape, head explosions, and all manner of blood and gore between the covers. Before venturing into this book you'll need to put your wadders on as things stay near the brutal end of the bell curve. That's not to say that Samhane is simply an exercise in exploitation that plays to the lowest common denominator, rather we're talking a well written novel that doesn't stint in looking under the shroud down the local morgue. The novel is what you would expect if James Herbert, or Stephen King, had of decided to take a chainsaw to a killer clown, and then described the result in exacting detail. While the blood may flow, and believe me the pages are drench in it, Author Daniel I. Russell doesn't allow the standard of the writing to lapse at any stage.
The Author spends the first half of his novel introducing his characters, but immediately puts the protagonists in harm's way and has the reader aware of just how insanely out of control his antagonists are. There's a reason for the assorted antagonists having any number of Roos loose in the top paddock, and that would be down to the mad god Zandathru and the whole chaos thing. Read the fracking book to get the concept there, I'm not about to spell things out.
What we do get are a number of inter-connected plot lines that twist and turn around each other before of course coming into alignment with the final confrontation. A number of characters will have fallen prey to the forces of darkness along the way just to keep things interesting of course. Daniel I. Russell surprised me on occasion, as I thought something was going to happen that didn't eventuate, or that a character might evolve in one direction only to find that character had done a uturn and gone down a separate path. The novel, while not being an exercise in existentialist exploration, does give you slightly more than you would expect from a “penny dreadful”, Russell knows how to write yo. So yes there is some direction to the contents, and it ain't all downhill to the local sewage treatment plant.
While Russell's novel is hitting top gear and racing through the narrative, did I mention the Author has the whole pace thing happening and doesn't allow the story to lag at any stage? - the Reader will get the general feel that Russell knows how to write action sequences, has his finger on the descriptive pulse, and generally is a master at this form of dark genre writing. I haven't been this excited over a pulp Author since Brett McBean dropped me off at a certain Motel. There's an artform to writing “splatter punk”, to coin a term that was in vogue in the 1990s, and Daniel I. Russell on the evidence of Samhane has his fingers gouging out that particular wound.
Okay so there are a few minor quibbles with the novel, most readers wont pick up on these as the pace of the novel is pretty break neck, and hey lets not get too anal over here. I thought Don had one too many close escapes from various situations for my liking, and I'm not overly sure the dialogue was differentiated enough between some of the characters. That's not to say you will get confused with who's who, simply that regional and social dialectic forms tend to differ. Minor points, and lets not allow them to weigh down our enjoyment of what is a class novel.
Out of room, my constant lament, so wrapping up. I enjoyed Samhane and pretty much finished the novel on the day it arrived. Daniel I. Russell delivers a book that is pretty much compulsive reading, that does turn into a page turner. While I would recommend this one to most travellers of the dark country I would do so with the proviso that Samhane is going to be slightly too “extreme” for some tastes. If you enjoy the odd Richard Laymon outing and don't believe that horror begins and ends with Stephen King than dial in, Daniel I. Russell serves up a blood soaked treat for your consumption.
Daniel I. Russell maintains a website right here, unfortunately it's not called whoreandsickle.com, that would have been cool. For those purchasing Samhane from the website, it's going to set you back around $20 but you also get a free e-book, Roots, thrown in. There's also a blog available, over here. Okay that enough Daniel I. Russell for you? Well okay he also has a hand in the U.S periodic Necrotic Tissue that we've decided to adopt as a stray, (big Downunder content falling under our guidelines).
ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...br> br> Gore limits rating, well recommended otherwise