Written by Kealan Patrick Burke
Published by Cemetary Dance Publications
It’s always a crapshoot when authors contact us directly asking us to take a look at their latest offering. You never know if you’re going to wind up with some tenth-grade level writing, full of errors and little to no coherence, or discover a new and exciting author whose work you’ll be following much closer in the future.
Thankfully, the latter was the case when I agreed to check out Kealan Patrick Burke’s latest novella, The Hides, a follow-up to his debut novella Turtle Boy. Of course, the fact that Cemetery Dance Publishing put it out certainly helped; they certainly know their stuff when it comes to good horror.
The Hides continues the story of 17-year-old Timmy Quinn, which was began in Turtle Boy, but in such a way that you never feel lost if you hadn’t read the first (which I have not…yet). During the events of Turtle Boy, Quinn discovered that he has the ability to communicate with the dead, though not in the traditional “I see dead people” kind of way. Indeed, he does see dead people, but only the ones that are upset about the way they died, usually because they were murdered and the perpetrators have gotten away with it. All Quinn is able to do is serve as a conduit for them to come out from behind, as they call it, The Curtain, and exact their revenge. And their revenge is never pretty.
As The Hides begins, Quinn’s parents finally decide, after years of fighting, to split up. Timmy’s dad is going back to his hometown in Ireland, and he wants Timmy to come with him to try and get him away from all the bad stuff that’s happened to him and maybe help him start over again. Unfortunately, the dead are just as pissed off in Ireland as they are in the States; only over there they’re much, much older and far angrier.
Shortly after moving in with his grandmother, Timmy begins to see that things are not right at all, as a dead girl crawling out of the ocean is a great indication of, and suspects it has something to do with his seemingly innocent grandmother. To add to his bad feelings, his father has taken a job at a local leather producing facility in a building that’s crammed full of all sorts of supernatural suspicions from the townsfolk. When Timmy enters the hide making factory, he gets the feeling that something is very, very wrong here, and all too soon he’s proven to be right.
Burke’s concept about why the dead would communicate with us is not entirely original, but the execution of it is, which is what makes The Hides work so well. He doesn’t paint Timmy as a typical angst-ridden 17-year-old full of idiotic sarcasm and a loathing for authority, but instead creates an entirely sympathetic character who’s caught up in a situation he have no control over, with a burgeoning acceptance of his plight as time goes on. He knows the dead aren’t out to harm him specifically, just the ones that have done them wrong, but it’s hard to justify such a thing when every time they show themselves to him, someone else dies, too.
It’s all about style over substance for me when it comes to horror novels; you can have the worst story in the world to tell, but if you tell it with some flash and originality, you’ve got me hooked. Luckily Burke appears to be an author with a firm grip on both style and substance, a commodity that we’re all too short on these days. He’s got a great grasp on his characters and their motivations, and you can also tell he also has a much larger story to tell than the one laid down either here or in Turtle Boy. At one point a character mentions that there are many with his ability and that a revolution is coming. If that’s not an indication of an author with a bigger picture in mind, I don’t know what is.
My only real complaint with The Hides has to do with the final showdown in the leather factory, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that’s interested in reading it, so I’ll just say I wish Burke had taken a slightly less…kaiju approach with his embodiment of revenge.
That’s about it, though. The rest of the book is damn solid and a great read; I recommend it to anyone looking for some great storytelling and strong characters, especially if you’ve got a hankering for something with the potential to be much larger than the individual tales.
4 out of 5
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