Slights (2009)

Author Kaaron Warren
Publisher Angry Robot
Length 502 pages + Author interview + first chapters of Kaaron's next novel Mistification
Genre Serial Killer
Blurb Stevie is a serial killer. When she kills people, she asks them "What do you see?" She's about to find out.

Talk us through it

Stephanie (Stevie) is a serial killer who is totally self adsorbed and who is following in her father's footsteps. Like Father like Daughter, keeping it all in the family. After a lunch time date with her mother Stevie crashes her car, killing her mother in the process. A resulting near-death experience draws Stevie into a cold rank room full of people she has slighted in her life who are after some payback. Naturally our heroine is intrigued by what lies beyond the wall of death and wants to go back to the room to discover it's secrets. This means she must die over and over again in order to gain the room, talk about your who pays the ferryman toll.

Since Stevie isn't experiencing any of the usually claims of after death happenings she begins to wonder if other people have their own rooms. Naturally being a resourceful gal, and totally unstable, she has ample opportunity to find out what others see when the lights grow dim.

Can Stevie discover the ultimate secret of life after death before the Police discover who the local Dexter is?


"We don't have the cheap stuff anymore. There were reports of tetanus" - Stevie

Kaaron Warren's first of three books for Angry Robot Books has me wondering if a major talent of Stephen King proportions isn't slipping under the radar of most Australian and foreign readers. Simply put Slights is going to be one of the best horror novels you can hope to read this year and I've got my Ditmar nomination for long fiction sorted. Like King, Warren grounds her book in everyday characters, your normal suburban happenings, and then sneaks the horror in under your radar. The book is pretty much half way through before Stevie takes time out of her busy schedule of antagonising her sister and assorted other victims in order to commit a murder. Ms Warren has been hinting at things, leading the reader on a merry dance through half revealed evidence of Stevie's tendencies towards the final solution, before slam dunking the reader with an actual death. It's all very Stephen King in structure and I was simply mesmerised by the narrative.

Okay lets pull the morgue wagon up to the curb here and break down why Slights is a happening thing and a must read. You might like to go grab a cup of coffee and some biscuits at this stage as we may be in for one hell of a long review if I want to cover all the highlights of Kaaron Warren's exceptional novel.

To continue the Stephen King comparison for a while longer, and yes like Maine's favourite son Kaaron Warren writes in a very natural style, Slights is what is called a "slow burner". The novel introduces it's main characters, puts them in everyday situations, and slowly hints at the horror to come. Stevie's maniac digging up of the back yard and categorising of items she discovers will come home to roost, I was digging Ms Warren's careful construction there and you will have a wry grin when a button, a coin, and other odds and ends are linked to minor characters in an almost off hand way. I was reminded of Stephen King's The Tommyknockers in how the true horror slowly seeped into Slights catching me completely off guard. Of course the other thing to keep in mind is that Kaaron Warren has a number of balls in the air through the first half of Slights and by page last she hasn't dropped a single one. Nothing is left up in the air, all bases are covered, and you will have a sense of satisfaction at having read a well constructed and intricate horror novel.

Just between you, me, and the voices in our heads, I think Kaaron Warren may have written the novel of the year for the dark genre. Keep it under your hat else everyone will want to dial in.

What's impressive about Slights is that the Author doesn't flag at any stage of the five hundred odd pages. Hands up who's read a long novel, of any genre, and has noticed the Writer at stages is showing signs of fatigue and wanting to get the book finished. Kaaron Warren keeps on coming at you remorselessly from page one to the final page, you are getting full value here without any padding or attempts to throw something in simply to get the word count up. The novel may be long but it takes all of it's length to get the reader to truly know Stevie and hence to understand the true horror she finally experiences; "I end alone. One by one, they vanish from the room, leaving me alone in the cold, dark womb". When I first read Stephen King's Pet Sematery I was left with the impression that King had written his novel with the sole intent of hitting hard with the final paragraph, if you read the book in one sitting that final statement is devastating in it's implications. Similarly Kaaron Warren's Slights builds to the quoted passage and the reader will be left shattered. Unlike King Ms Warren does relent with a final page allowing her readers to breath slightly easier as they put the finished novel down. I would suggest when you read Slights to leave the final page till the next day, or hey if in a morbid frame of mind give it a miss completely, for best impact. And no I was not going to mention how poetic the quoted phrase is, I'll leave that to female reviewers.

There is of course some slight of hand going down, though darned if I could see any smoke or mirrors in use. To get the full impact of what you are reading you will of course need to have some emotional involvement in Kaaron Warren's prose. Let's face it, none of us cares what happens to characters if we have nothing invested in them. Just read a Stephenie Meyer book to get the dark side of that equation. Ms Warren needs her readers to identify with Stevie as this is all first person narrative writing. If we don't get on the Stevie groove train then there's nothing much to take from the novel, and hence Kaaron Warren has failed at her job. Let's face facts here the Author has that most difficult of writing jobs, getting the reader to identify with a character who has little to no redeeming features. For heaven's sack our central character is a serial murderer! Kaaron Warren not only has us behind Stevie and her trials and tribulations, but I was opening doors for her and hoping things would work out for Stevie in the end. That's some slight of hand right there, and for her next trick Kaaron Waren is going to pull a daikaiju sized bunny out of a top hat.

For those wondering, no the gore isn't front and center in Slights, in fact it's mostly off center stage. So you are not going to be submerged in one blood drench scene after another. Kaaron Warren is putting us right into Stevie's head, frivolous things like body disposals are not the order of the day, we're talking motivations in Roo loose town here. The chilling part of the novel comes from Stevie's notions for what she is doing, some wonderful apparently throw away lines nail that to the mast post, and of course Stevie's room and her reaction to it. Kaaron Warren can inform us there's an afterlife, and it's apt to be fill of picky bastards who no doubt had careers as accountants and public servants. Hell is a slight payback, if you'll excuse the pun.

What I really dug about Kaaron Warren's descent into madness was the inherent humour in Slights. While aiming right between the reader's eyes the Author is also forcing that frown to turn upside down. I read the novel over a number of trips between Newcastle and Sydney and my fellow passengers must have wondered who they were sharing their carriage with as I chuckled away while clearly reading a horror novel. Kaaron Warren has a wicked sense of humour, which was much appreciated over here in my neck of the woods.

Naturally, like all good authors, Kaaron Warren isn't making life easy on the Reader, hey you are required to think about things, so get ready to oil up the machinery and see if you can decipher the beat the Writer sends our way. What events and memories of Stevie's are real? Like the constant reframe of "this is what should have happened" the reader is left wondering if indeed "this is what did happen". Is Stevie's room her own personal hell or is it a hell for the people consigned to the room for the sin of being slighted by Stevie? Is the room itself actually real or is it another facet of the central character's growing madness? Is Stevie's murderous disposition the result of nurture, or lack thereof, or genetics? I'm not about to give you my thoughts on any of these questions, read the book and make up your own mind.

To the technical aspects Batman. Slights is written in first person narrative form so get ready for a depraved, sometime vicious, yet engrossing read as we view things from Stevie's perspective. Kaaron Warren nails it and you will sympathise with her narrator, even while wondering about the safety of those she comes into contact with. The Author structures the novel as periods in Stevie's life, so we have for example "at eighteen", "at thirty-two", etc. What's interesting about the structure is we get to follow Stevie's maturing in a sort of demonic version of Seven Up, and are with her as she takes onboard events that have happened during her life, and the supposed wisdom age brings in interpreting them. What Kaaron Warren really nails here is the incidental characters who grow or shrink in importance to Stevie as she ages non-gracefully. Kaaron Warren keeps a naturalistic and easy to read writing style flowing throughout the novel. Be careful however as time has a tendency to evaporate as you are caught up in the narrative and end up reading for long periods of time.

Slights is available from all good bookshops so should not be hard to track down. I grabbed my copy from the Galaxy bookshop down in Sydney, but am reliably informed that Dymocks, Borders, and most large retailers are carrying stock.

Please note the novel is classified here at ScaryMinds as being a United Kingdom release, but Author Kaaron Warren is a true blue Aussie currently raising hell in Fiji. Kaaron has two further books scheduled from Angry Robot, don't get between me and my copy of either book when they are released, it wont be pretty.

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

The perfect psychological horror novel. If you are only going to read one horror book this year then head on down to your local bookstore and get a copy today, I'll feel slighted if you don't.