Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cybernocks 3: KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke
Reviewed by Anthony Servante 

Called "one of the most clever and original talents in contemporary horror" (BOOKLIST), Kealan Patrick Burke is the Bram Stoker Award-Winning author of five novels (MASTER OF THE MOORS, CURRENCY OF SOULS, THE LIVING, KIN, and NEMESIS), nine novellas (including the Timmy Quinn series), over a hundred short stories, and six collections. He edited the acclaimed anthologies: TAVERNS OF THE DEAD, QUIETLY NOW, BRIMSTONE TURNPIKE, and TALES FROM THE GOREZONE.

An Irish expatriate, he currently resides in Ohio. Visit him on the web at http://www.kealanpatrickburke.com or find him on Facebook at facebook.com/kealan.burke


One of the perks of a blogger is that we get to read what we like to read, so it is not uncommon to review books that I was planning to read anyway. Such is the case with KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke. “On a scorching hot summer day in Elkwood, Alabama, Claire Lambert staggers naked, wounded, and half-blind away from the scene of an atrocity. She is the sole survivor of a nightmare that claimed her friends, and even as she prays for rescue, the killers -- a family of cannibalistic lunatics -- are closing in.

A soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder returns from Iraq to the news that his brother is among the murdered in Elkwood.

In snowbound Detroit, a waitress trapped in an abusive relationship gets an unexpected visit that will lead to bloodshed and send her back on the road to a past she has spent years trying to outrun.”

KIN tosses the reader in media res into the story. Something big has happened and something bigger is about to happen. The stories of the main characters will intertwine and the horror we did not see will return. Kealan’s strength comes from his acting background; he can frame a scene as if the written word were his camera. He can establish the character motivation as if he were the director.

In KIN, Claire Lambert has escaped from a family of cannibals living in the backwoods of the South. She survives. Luke, the tracker who follows the escaped woman, reports his failure to capture the would-be meal to the cannibal leaders, a sort of bizarro Pa and Ma Kettle. Luke and his own kin will have a price to pay. The principal characters, Luke and his voracious clan, Claire, her own family, the folk who rescued Claire, and Finch, the Iraq war vet who lost a brother (one of Claire’s group who didn’t escape), provide the story’s friction, its impetus to motivate the actions of the characters which in turn propel the plot along.

The points of view between the Merrill clan and the “civilized” clan raise the question of what is right and wrong in the natural world. What is right to an animal that survives the jungle? What is right to a creature of the city? What happens when these two perspectives conflict and survival does not allow for easy answers. It’s kill or be killed.

Kealan treads Jack Ketchum territory here, but takes the savagery one step further by adding depth to his characters. It is not all about tribal rituals and gory battles. There are emotions that are explored: fear, doubt, despair, and ultimately, hope. The human spirit when confronted by animalistic beings rises to the challenge to overcome its baser brothers of the flesh, for that is the scary part. These are men without respect for restraint, that emotion that defines law and order between civilized creatures not just in the concrete cities but in the jungle as well. The soldier represents the ritualistic killer bred by civilized men. But the cannibals are bred by their base environment. How many times have we seen people turn savage when their environment allows for a lack of restraint? Although Kealan utilizes the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as a touchstone for our capacity for turning savage, I can think of a police chase of a trio of robbers the other day. The robbers threw money out the window in hopes of riling up the neighborhood to block the police so they could escape their pursuers. Instead, the crowds blocked the robbers in and the cops arrested them. But the crowds were out in the hundreds, looking for more free cash. They began to throw things at the police. The police responded quickly with a force dressed in riot gear. A few minutes ago, this same crowd was in their homes watching TV, washing dishes, changing diapers; the next, they were ready to go toe to toe with the riot squad. It was all about the money. At least for the Merrills, it was all about right and wrong, what God wanted and didn’t want. It is still scary to realize that the terrorists believed they were doing God’s will. But it is so easy to choose a side. Maybe God wanted the crowds to have the money? That would have made the policemen wrong. If God wanted the cannibals to feed on the civilized, that would have made the civilized not only wrong, but food, pure and simple. I mean, the title of the book is KIN, but which kin is Burke referring to, if not both. Of course it's both.

I turned the last page (does Kindle count as page turning?) and thought about the conundrum Burke set up for his readers. Two families, both right from their own points of view. This story can be added to stories like Deliverance, Southern Comfort, and Offspring, those effective tales that draw lines between civilized law and backwoods law, and how these lines must sometimes be ignored to survive. But then getting back to your side of the line is not such an easy task to accomplish, for this is Kurtz territory. He could not return once he accepted “the horror, the horror”. The reader will have a similar feeling after reading this empathetic journey into the heart of darkness.

For more on Kealan Patrick Burke, visit http://www.amazon.com/Kealan-Patrick-Burke/e/B002BLW1IU.

This concludes of first group of Cybernock reviews. Next up we have the second group of Cybernocks, including Gerald Rice, Lee Allen Howard, and Franklin E. Wales. 

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