Before (Book)


Written by Paul Kane

Published by Grey Matter Press

I’m not sure where to begin with my review of this latest novel from Paul Kane as it twists between timelines, locations, characters, plot, and even sub-genres. So, I feel I ought to begin by stating that Before has all the hallmarks of Kane, complete with a ton of what to me seem like Clive Barker influences without becoming imitative or derivative.

The opening hooks you into a common-place horror-movie scene, minus the lightning. A young psychiatrist is offered the chance to work with his idol in 1970s Germany, who hears first-hand the deranged utterings of a man whose mind has been lost to some cosmic horror or other, we know not what that may be, or whether it is real.

In chapter 2 we’re transported to jungle-warfare in South-East Asia and you now believe you’re into an archetypal military horror genre book, or movie—it’s all very cinematic to read. Then the twists come and you realise it might just be real after all.

So, that’s the first two chapters, and we’re still in Part One of the book. Part Two begins in Kirkwell (country un-stated) and introduces us to Alex, a teacher of Media and Film and his wife Beverly, as we’re immersed in their life of domestic un-bliss, a relationship clearly gone sour but there is hope for the couple who still live together and keep up the pretence of a marriage to outsiders. We also get to meet the rogue brother-in-law (and thrice-divorced) Steve as well as Alex’s friend James, and there is additional tension here. Again, Kane manages to paint the characters with broad brush-strokes then dive into minutiae which to be honest I sometimes feel is a little excessive, but at least it keeps us guessing about which characters will get killed off first (there are few red-topped cannon-fodder characters here.) I have to say I was struggling with the next chapter as it dwelt too much on domestic details I didn’t feel added value, but then, Thwoom! Kane slapped me in the face with a completely unexpected event that left me wondering if it was supernatural or psychological.

Chapter five (of part two, it gets confusing) takes us from Kirkwell to Amsterdam and we’re clearly now in serial killer country in a big way, but again the supernatural elements introduced in an earlier chapter come flooding back. Here it gets quite bloody and full of tension, with a very cinematic sequence of events and introduction to more characters you think you may never get to meet again. Or will you? That’s part of Kane’s method, I now realise: to make you to believe in a character who may or may not be disposed of several pages later. And so it continues, more characters, more killings, more supernatural elements and surprises until eventually they all come together, and in a way that makes you think, ‘of course’ and ‘I never saw that coming’ all at once.

I won’t continue with a chapter by chapter summary, but let’s say that if you enjoy Barker, you will love Kane. I feel he has matured a lot and is now conjuring these fantastical workings as memorably as the master imagineer Barker, whom Kane has spent so long studying. Not to diminish Kane’s work in any way, as this is truly compelling reading and I am going to have to buy the book and read it again in its printed form. And most likely again after that, before… ah, but that’s the surprise at the bottom of the Christmas stocking and I refuse to spoil that moment for you.

Steve Dillon, Series editor of “Between the Tracks – Tales from the Ghost Train” and Director of Oz Horror Con.

  • Book


Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter