Monday, September 13, 2010

Currency Of Souls

There are a lot of people who seem to believe that there is no possible intersection between “literature” and “horror”. I would say these people have never read anything by Kealan Patrick Burke, an Irish author now living in America, who has written literate, thought-provoking short stories and novels, without the attention he deserves.

Currency of Souls, a 2007 novel from Subterranean Press, is a good example of how you can have a novel with the action and suspense fans of the genre want without sacrificing the ability to get inside characters that is the benchmark of good writing. It takes place in Eddie’s Tavern in the town of Millstone, a kind of hell, or more appropriately, purgatory, where a motley collection of characters await redemption. It seems they were all responsible for some tragic event, and are awaiting their chance at redemption. Every night at 11:00, the sinister Reverend Hill appears to tell them who is about to die, and which one of them will serve as the driver for the occasion. The hope of the patrons is they will one day atone for their sins and move on. The main character is Tom, the town sheriff, who, like the rest, is weary of the repetition and pain of their existence.

One night, the routine is broken. Unexpected blood is spilled, the tavern burns, and the desperate denizens of the tavern struggle to learn whether the events represent an end to their limbo, or just a momentary interruption. Along the way, we learn more about why they are there, whether they (or anyone) deserve their fate, and if there is to be a release.

This is a short novel, but there is plenty to get under your skin and much to ponder after reading it. Burke is one of those rare authors with a fluid way with words, and he can tell a story. I thought the novel reflected a very Catholic sensibility, but perhaps I’m projecting my own background there.

Highly recommended.

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