Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Gary Braunbeck
Published by Leisure Books
We live in horrible times. Admit it. Watch the evening news to see tales of random shootings, hate crimes, and people generally behaving like animals without reason. We are also a nation of voyeurs, otherwise, every tragedy that occurs wouldn’t be turned into a movie-of-the-week or the latest inspired-by-true-events Oscar-winner. But while the camera lens is focused on the immediate victims and the perpetrator, one question has never really been answered: What about the others, whose lives were touched by the tragedy but didn’t wind up a news story because they neither died nor became media whores? It’s an interesting position to consider, and one that Gary Braunbeck considers fully in his novel Far Dark Fields.
A continuation of stories put into motion in novels such as Mr. Hands and Coffin County, Far Dark Fields follows a high-school English teacher named Geoff Conover, who was only a baby when he became the lone survivor of a brutal massacre (perpetuated by a family member). Now, more than thirty years later, another young man walks into his school and, without warning or reason, opens fire. The gunman turns the gun on himself, but survives in the hospital just long enough to give Conover a final message: “Hoopsticks,” the deranged killer that haunts Cedar Hill and the strange area known to locals as “Coffin County.” Prompted by the ghosts of those slain by the boy and by the crazed Hoopsticks, Conover returns to Cedar Hill, and walks into pure madness and pain.
Braunbeck is at his best in this book, which is the first in a two-part story (the sequel will be released soon). His settings are fully realized, inviting the reader into the town and making him feel right at home. From the scent of sizzling cheeseburgers on the grill at the diner to the alcohol-soaked air of the local bar, The Hangman, Cedar Hill comes to vivid life, so much so that the reader will feel that, not only is the place real, but after reading this book he’ll swear it’s somewhere he’s been. The characters are so well depicted and developed that Braunbeck pulls off the most difficult of all tasks: emotionally involving the reader in the plot. The scenes of terror are, in fact, terrifying. The points of confusion will have the reader scratching his head right alongside the characters. And there is at least one scene that packs such a powerful punch that if, after reading it, there isn’t a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes, you have no soul.
In the past, there have been various monikers assigned to Braunbeck. “Up and comer,” “heir to the horror throne,” etc. With this novel, he is no longer any of these as he shows his mastery of the genre by creating a piece that leaves the reader emotionally wrung-out. As visceral as a heart-beat, as gut-wrenching as a kick to the groin, Far Dark Fields is brilliant.
5 out of 5
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