Saturday, November 24, 2012

Vile Blood by Max Wilde (aka Roger Smith)

Horror, red in tooth and claw. If this is how you like it then Vile Blood is the book for you.

Roger Smith's books all have a tinge of horror. Gatsby (Mixed Blood), Piper (Wake Up Dead), Inja (Dust Devils), Vernon Saul (Capture), all broken away from humanity, bringing fear and pain to anyone unfortunate to cross them. You look into their eyes and see a soulless void.

With Vile Blood, Roger moves into a different form of horror. Here "tooth and claw" is not a metaphor but actual limb rending, disemboweling horror. The easy way out with this sort of horror is to shock the reader as often as possible with gratuitous, grotesque violence. But Roger applies the same careful character building and plot development that you find in his South African crime thrillers.

Vile Blood takes place in an unspecified part of the American Southwest, a departure from the South African settings of Roger's previous books. This isn't the wide-open spaces, buffalo roaming, picture postcard west. It is poisoned earth, dead or dying towns, corruption. And a good man trying to stand against evil finding his principles tested.

Four soldiers of a drug lord are killed in savage, bloody, and gruesome ways, like a wild beast tore them apart. For Chief Deputy Sheriff Gene Martindale, the crime scene brings back memories he hoped would stay hidden. Has the beast that lies within his adopted sister Skye awakened? Gene protected his sister all those years ago but now Dellbert Drum, corrupt sheriff from the neighboring county, remembering what happened to Gene and Skye back then, pockets evidence at the crime scene. He sees a way to make Gene an accessory in his drug distribution network.

At the same time the beast is awakening in Skye, so does Junior Cotton from his coma in a mental hospital. Junior is pure, spawn of Satan evil, and has a primal, psychic connection to Gene and Skye that makes it inevitable that their lives will intersect.

Rounding out the cast of principle characters is the Reverend Jimmy Tincup, depraved, debased, and degenerate, running a meth lab in an abandoned motel with his whores. Tincup supplies the product for Drum's drug enterprise.

The horror elements are well done and well placed, contributing to the story without becoming repetitive. Roger also answers a question I hadn't considered before: what happens the morning after the beast feeds. Though this is is the first in a series, the reader isn't left hanging. We get enough satisfying details on Skye's background to get our interest but the complete picture will be developed in the sequels.

As with Smith's other books, he gives the reader a good foundation with the story but he also populates the story with memorable characters: the stolid Gene Martindale who you can see meeting the bad guy at noon on a dusty street in the old west; the virginal Skye Martindale trying to come to terms with what is happening to her; the outwardly genial, inwardly putrid Dellbert Drum; the evil psychopath Junior Cotton whose early life is as much horror as the scene that opens the book; and the Rev. Tincup as venal and unredeemable a character as has ever populated a story.

Roger has a background in film and one of his strengths is to give the reader graphic detail with which to build a mental image of the people, setting and action. For me, the stand-out is the Rev. Tincup and his decaying motel fiefdom. Fascinating and at the same time repellent, like an accident you can't look away from.

There will be sequels to Vile Blood and this is not the case where I am curious what happens next, I NEED to know what happens next to these people.

Vile Blood is available from Amazon for the Kindle.