Stained (Book)

Stained, a new novel by Lee Thomas, is a fast-paced supernatural whodunit combining elements of The Fallen and Silence of the Lambs. The story follows Ted as he pursues a killer known as “The River Rat” who has run amok in his hometown. With an exquisite stroke in pacing, the killer, a local priest, is accosted within the first thirty pages of the novel, leaving readers stumped. We quickly discover that the true villain is as insidious as any werewolf as his insatiable urge to kill is passed on in a similar fashion. Thus bitten, Ted must now struggle with the growing power of “The Jack” as his dormant insecurities and fears are stirred to the surface, forming an all-encompassing rage. The stage now set, the novel continues in a fashion as divided as our hero as the well defined plot tries desperately to contend with the growing flaws in characterization that threaten to overwhelm it.

On the positive side, the work is a fast read with little time for excess detail as the plot is always in the forefront. We follow Ted on a roller coaster ride to the brink of insanity and beyond as he tries to contain the maddening influence of “The “Jack” and find the real villain behind an ever-mounting body count. In this way the work succeeds as one ingenious twist is followed by another until the novel comes crashing to an end. The description of the first victim is also wonderfully rendered, and I found myself gasping at the cruelty described with visions of Clive Barker and Poppy Z. Brite glistening back at me from the surrounding gore. Suffice to say I was very pleased after finishing the first half of the book and thus even more devastated with the disappointment that followed.

Instead of speeding through the rest of the work, I found myself lagging. Where I was hoping to discover the secrets behind a serial killer’s madness, I instead found stereotypical characters whose appeal weaned after their faux shine of newness quickly wore away. Assumed allusions based on the name “The Jack” were never unearthed, and as an alternative we are left to follow Ted and his two-dimensional friends “the jock, the cop, and the gay” throughout the rest of the book. Characterization, though brief, is eventually provided as each character is lovingly summarized right before their dismemberment, giving a head’s up to all readers on the identity of every upcoming victim. This trick, which works quite well in a longer piece as any Stephen King fan will attest to, fails miserably here. With less than a hundred pages left there is no time for a reader to develop the required anticipation that leads to suspense, making Lee’s attempts seem cumbersome.

All in all, Lee Thomas has produced a great airplane book — good for a short flight but a little flimsy for any extended layovers. Without being over-critical, the piece can be recommended for light readers or anyone who has ever been suspect of their preacher. Unfortunately, the tale is quite sparse and contains little to engage the more serious literary genre enthusiasts. After reevaluation the title itself is suspect as the work falls quite short of a stain and is quickly and easily removed from the tapestry of recollection by a small application of Lovecraft and a little Bradbury on the side.

By Lee Thomas
Wildside Press, 2004
292 pages

2 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit

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