A couple of weeks ago, Dorchester Publishing had an amazing sale. 50% off their entire catalog. If that wasn’t good enough, if you were a member of one of their clubs — like I am (the Hard Case Crime club) — you got an additional discount. Plus for every five books you bought, you got one free! I ended up picking up 12 books for $26 shipped. Damn fine deal for brand new books.
Of them, I finally got around to purchasing Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic. Since I picked up my Sony eBook reader, I’ve been a bit behind on some of my favorite authors, simply because they aren’t available in eBook format. (My God, I can’t wait for this to change.)
It had been awhile since I had read something from Keene, so I eagerly tore into Urban Gothic first when I got my bundle o’ books from Dorchester because I’ve enjoyed all of Keene’s work. Surprisingly, I was a little disappointed in this one.
The premise of Urban Gothic is relatively simple: A group of white kids, on their way home from a concert, get lost in Philadelphia and end up in a very bad neighborhood. To make matters worse, their car breaks down. This is not good, as this is the kind of neighborhood cops don’t even bother responding to calls. After a confrontation with a group of teens who live in the area, which leads to one of the cracker kids shouting out ‘nigger’, the whitebreads escape to a house that even the residents of this ghetto avoid due to its shady history.
Of course, immediately after entering the house, they get locked in. And there are far worse things in this dwelling than the angry youths that chased them. The suburbanites immediately find this out when a seven foot tall mutant crushes the skull of one of the teens within minutes of entering the house. And he isn’t the only freak-of-nature in the house, not by a long shot. The party has started.
The biggest strength in Urban Gothic, hands down, is the unflinching brutality that runs rampant throughout the book. Within 20 or so pages, one of the (what you would have assumed) main characters is immediately dispatched. And like many of Keene’s work that I have read, no one is safe. That’s one of the things I really like about Keene, he doesn’t care if you like the character. He doesn’t care if the character is a good guy, or a hero. They are human and they can, and many times will, die. Don’t get too attached.
The book is also a very fast read. The action is virtually non-stop the moment the kids enter the house. Hell, once the first of the group bites it, the kids are either running or fighting constantly, and eventually even the teens that chased them into the house get involved. It’s an exciting book in that regard.
However, the problem becomes the book feels as rushed as the action within it. There are plot points that are hinted at, but never fully developed, like the history of the house. At one point, one of the girls finds a room with papers and photos that might give a clue on the creatures that lurk within, but that’s just a tease as all she does is take some pictures of the papers with her cellphone and then moves on. I’m not the type of person to necessarily need to know why something is, but when an explanation is dangled in front of me, I would want some follow through.
Also, Urban Gothic has some of the weaker editing I’ve seen compared to Keene’s prior works that I’ve read (and I’ve read most). There were more-than-a-few instances of forced analogies. In particular, the phrase “it reminded him [or her] of” is used a lot. For example, if a character felt a breeze that could lead them to the outside, they would be “reminded of the time” they went on that picnic. Or if a character was extremely thirsty, they were “reminded of the time” they went hiking and forgot to bring water. (Note, these situations are made up, as I don’t have the book in front of me, but you get the gist.) I am completely aware how nitpicky that seems, but once you pick up on it, it stands out every time you see it. I don’t blame Keene for this, as I freely admit I do it myself in reviews for HorrorTalk, but the people that do my editing generally pick it up.
This does not make the book non-enjoyable, not by a long shot. It’s a lot of fun and, like I said, a quick read. Hell, this is one of those books that would make a great movie because of all of the action. Keene fans will definitely enjoy it, and Richard Laymon fans will dig it as well because it drips of his influence. I’m just a bit disappointed that there seemed to be a missed opportunity with the history of the house (or, rather, the inbreds within it), the rushed feel of it and the need for a stronger edit.
There is little doubt I’ll read it again down the road, but I’d probably give The Rutting Season or Ghoul a re-read before this one.