Friday, November 21, 2008


I’ve been a fan of Brian Keene since reading The Rising, and continuing through The Conqueror Worms, Cities of the Dead, and Dead Sea. He has a splatterpunk sensibility, although I think he is a smoother writer than most of them, and a wonderful refusal to look away from the unpleasantness of the situations he creates. I finally got around to Ghoul (an earlier effort to read it was ended when my dog ate my copy, took a while to get back to it) and it is my favorite of his books so far.

Ghoul is something of a coming-of-age novel, in the manner of Simmons’ Summer of Night, King’s It, or McCammon’s Boy’s Life. Three twelve-year-old friends have their summer off from school interrupted by the discovery the nearby cemetery is being plagued with a recently freed ghoul, who is eating the dead and kidnapping woman to breed others of his race. The three kids ultimately have to be the ones to stop him, while dealing with some serious childhood issues of their own.

In Keene’s universe, there is true tension since you have no idea if any of the sympathetic characters will make it, or that Good will defeat Evil (Most of horror fiction is a type of morality play, where you know Good will triumph in the end). And the horror works on two levels. There is the supernatural threat of the title creature, and the human horror of how the damage we receive as children scar our lives. The epilogue, which does not concern the supernatural, is heartbreaking (This is not a criticism, but truly happy endings seem to be anathema to Keene. One of these days, he will write one just to shock his long time fans.).

It was also nice to see a horror novel written around a seldom used beastie, an actual corpse-eating ghoul. I can’t think off-hand of too many other novels to use this.

I would heartily recommend this to those who are already Keene fans, and those who haven’t tried him yet. My dog enjoyed her copy also.

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