Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Children of Chaos

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Greg Gifune’s writing for some time, but I am only now getting around to checking his work out. To be honest, I had wondered if some of the praise was undeserved hype, since Gifune’s other job is as an associate editor at Delirium Books, and in the incestuous little world of our genre, there is a tendency to pump up people who might be in a position to help a reviewer land a later sale. Judging by my first Gifune book, Children of Chaos, he is well worth the praise he has received.

In the late 1970s, three teenage boys returning home from a carnival come across a strangely scarred man, with the word “Chaos” tattooed on his back, camping in the woods. With fresh news of the murder of a young girl on their minds, they attack the man, killing him with a sword found in his bag, and disposing of his body. The guilt they feel is intensified when they learn the dead girl was killed by her father instead.

Adulthood doesn’t work out well for the trio. Jamie fulfilled his ambition to become a priest, but was defrocked after having sex with a minor. Philip became a writer, but by his 40s is without a publisher, divorced, and well on his way to alcoholism. Martin wanted to be an actor, but after years of wandering, became the leader of a strange cult in the Mexican desert.

Martin’s seriously ill mother wants to bring him on before she dies, and hires Martin to go after him. Despite his reluctance, Martin needs the money, and is soon on a strange and frightening journey toward the fate that was sealed for the three friends the day they killed the scarred man. Will he find redemption or damnation at the end of his quest?

As Gifune discusses in his afterward, the parallels in the story with Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness are pretty overt, and I was also put in mind of John Carpenter’s underrated film In The Mouth of Madness, but that may just be me. I don’t want to get all freshman English major on you, but Children of Chaos does echo many of heart of Darkness’ themes, most particularly duality, as explored in the conversations between Philip and Martin on the basic good or evil of mankind.

I found Children of Chaos to be a compelling work, one which managed to combine a fast-moving plot with genre-compatible chills and action with thoughtful ruminations on the nature of mankind. If, like me, you are late to Mr. Gifune’s books, Children of Chaos would be a good starting point. Highly recommended.


The Doctor said...

Sounds good. I've heard good things about Gifune but haven't managed to get into his fiction yet.

KentAllard said...

I was pretty pleased.

Rabid Fox said...

I think it was Norm Rubenstein on Pod of Horror, whom I first heard raving about Gifune's writing. This book sounds like a darned good one and right up my alley. Nice review.