Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Brian Keene
Published by Leisure Books
Imagine waking up tomorrow morning to find that everything around you is gone. Not a hole where it should’ve been, but actually just gone. No stars in the sky, no sun, no outlying roads to lead to the next town. Just nothing. Trapped in a small town, how would people react, and how long before they started revealing their true natures? Horror scribe Brian Keene returns with the novella Darkness at the Edge of Town, which is about, well, a town. And all around the edge of it is…um…darkness.
When most people think of Keene’s work, they think of over-the-top grotesqueries and violence. However, in this book, the violence is perpetrated by the townspeople who turn on each other, and the only grotesqueries are themselves when the masks start falling away. When Robbie, his neighbors, and his stoner girlfriend discover that their town is surrounded by a wall of darkness, hope gives way to fear, and common human decency goes right out the window. Written as part journal, part narrative, the book chronicles the steady decay of the town as well as the heroes’ wills to survive.
Keene excels at pace and timing, creating a book that flows easily and, despite the fact that very little actually happens, ratchets up the tension with every page turn. Many may point to the distinct lack of action as something of a miss for Keene, but I respectfully disagree. The real battles are taking place inside the characters’ heads. With the darkness constantly whispering and amping up emotions, the book is a chilling portrayal of what lives just beneath the surface of a small town, from petty jealousy to outright murder. It is a fascinating study in psychology and is every bit as frightening as the proverbial monster.
With the characters Keene creates a broad scope of different personalities in the village. For the first couple of hours everyone keeps their masks firmly in place, but when the siege fully takes hold, the city degenerates into looters, rapists, murderers, and intolerant mobs. By far the best character in the story is Dez, a crazy homeless person who might not be as crazy as everyone seems to think he is. While the other characters are well developed, none has the sheer lunacy or intrigue of Dez.
Darkness at the Edge of Town is a fast-paced psychological trip down the path of dystopian de-evolution. It is an interesting and unexpected direction for Keene but one that he should revisit often.
4 out of 5
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