Written by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Stephen Romano
Published by Mulholland Books
Having recently celebrated my year anniversary with Amazon’s Kindle, I’ve read more over this last twelve months than I had in the three years prior. Not exactly sure when I got away from reading, but the Kindle has put me back in touch with the written word in a way that I find seriously exciting. And while I’ve had a blast catching up on works I should’ve read years back (I just completed “The Shining” for the first time this summer), one of my constant, recurring grievances is over-length. Maybe it was just poor choosing on my end, but nearly every book I read in the last three months has felt bloated and in desperate need of edits. King’s mostly great “Duma Key” and Lee Child’s “Killing Floor” are just two examples of stories that might’ve been masterpieces had they been shaved into something tighter. So when a physical copy of “Black Light” landed on my doorstep, I instantly breathed a sigh of relief. At least it was short.
It’s also a lot of fun. The brainchild of three authors, all of whom are no stranger to the genre, Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Stephen Romano, “Black Light” is a genre-bending mixture of hard boiled noir tropes, classic creature feature and fast-paced chase thriller. It’s all wrapped around the personality of our resident hero, Buck Carlsbad (love that name), a supernatural exorcist of sorts who traps malevolent spirits thanks to an otherworldly power he acquired during childhood. Carlsbad is the tough-talking noir archetype. His words and thoughts are hard as nails, baked in the most colorful analogies these authors can muster, and the end result creates a wonderfully fun and brisk genre experience.
Carlsbad reluctantly boards a new experimental train called the Jaegar Laser, a rail that rockets its passengers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in record time. Buck reluctantly accepts the assignment which, coincidentally, takes him over the spot which saw his parents brutally killed years earlier. The story is fast and furious, and the balance between noir and horror is masterfully struck. There isn’t a dull moment on display, from the opening exorcism to the violent and brutal confrontations with some real wicked villains. This was some of the most fun I’ve had all year, and it’s over before you know it.
That’s actually one of the minor complains I have with “Black Light” … while it certainly isn’t boring, it might’ve benefitted from a slightly slower pace. Buck’s world feels fairly dense – as if Melton, Dunstan and Romano are building a mythology to continue exploring – and it would’ve been nice to slow down a little and give us something of a better idea of who Buck Carlsbad is. We learn of his origins here, but the character’s journey doesn’t quite feel as full as I would’ve liked. Maybe subsequent adventures will grant Buck more of an opportunity to grow and evolve with the story. As it stands, it’s the one misstep in an otherwise fine novel.
I’m careful not to slight the authors too much for that detraction. Lots of publishing houses are careful with length for “unproven” authors and it’s very probable that lots of that stuff was left on the cutting room floor. Either way, it doesn’t prevent “Black Light” from being a rollicking good time. Easily digested in one sitting, it comes highly recommended for this time of year. With horror a virtual nonentity at the box office, why not light some candles, kick back in your favorite chair and join Buck Carlsbad for a ride on the Jaeger Laser? You’ll be happy you did.
4 out of 5