Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Brian Keene
Published by Leisure Books
Most book reviews serve as some sort of indicator as to the talent of the writer, the worth of the book, etc. This one will be no different, but it has another purpose: To serve as a warning. So here it is, nice and clear, with no room for misinterpretation: Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic is not for the faint of heart.
Set in Philadelphia, the story begins with a group of teens returning from a hip-hop concert. On their way home, the one driving decides to take a detour through what turns out to be the worst neighborhood of the ghetto section of town to score weed. The car overheats and, frightened by what the perceive to be a group of gang-bangers, the teens retreat into what they believe to be an abandoned house at the end of the block. But this house has a reputation, and soon all hell breaks loose on the unfortunate group, as the house seems to be inhabited by cannibalistic, incestuous mutant monstrosities who methodically hunt and kill whoever is stupid enough to enter their domain.
Keene’s pacing in this story is break-neck and steady. The story doesn’t go for the steady build or the slow burn, it starts with pressure and just keeps heaping it on from there. Within the first twenty pages, readers will be treated to carnage, gore, and enough genuine terror to keep horror fans happy. But what really works here is Keene’s tight and descriptive writing style as it applies to not only the characters, but the environment and the atmosphere. Sure, his descriptions of the murderous mutants are horrific and disgusting, but even more disturbing to the reader is Keene’s description of the house. Even a single room without light, when all the character can see is black, takes on a surreal and terrifying life under Keene’s direction.
There are a few points about the novel that may turn off a few horror fans. Keene’s use of gore is generous throughout the novel, but there comes a point in the books where many might find that it stops being part of the story and becomes more of an assault on the imagination. Also, there exists at least one character whose sole purpose seems to get exposition from the monsters (who inexplicably begin speaking in English) and then die brutally. However, the rest of the story more than makes up for these minor shortcomings.
Urban Gothic is multi-layered in the sense that, yes, it’s a horror novel, and yes, there’s a great deal of gore, but there is more to it than that. It also makes a powerful social commentary about life in the ghetto, overcoming stereotypes, and taking pride in ones self. It also forces the reader to rethink any preconceived notions about neighborhoods and the people who live in them. In all, it is a powerful read. However, a word of caution: Make sure you have a strong stomach.
4 out of 5
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