Thursday, 29 July 2010

Review of Ray Garton - Bestial

In horror movie-land sequels are pretty much a par for the course. You make a good horror film, it seems it only makes sense to go back and milk the idea a second time. In the world of horror books (note - not dark fantasy or paranormal romance, I mean HORROR) this has been less common.

I'm not saying they don't exist - Graham Masterton's Manitou and James Herbert's Rats both started series - and sure you get books set in a repeated environs - take Gary Braunbeck's Cedar Hill short stories and novels, and Stephen King's version of Maine. But straight sequels, picking up the action from the end of the prior book or soon after, haven't filled the shelves in bookstores.

I guess part of the reason for this is the rather final end that most horror books have. Zombies are destroyed, vampires staked, demons exorcised, witches burned etc, etc. Okay, Dracula can be resurrected over and over but mostly you get to the end and that's it.

Recently though this seems to be changing. L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims have begun a series featuring secret British Government Department 18. Bryan Smith followed up his 2005 debut novel House of Blood with Queen of Blood, and Mary SanGiovanni followed her debut The Hollower with Found You.

Ray Garton has continued this trend in producing a sequel to his 2008 werewolf novel Ravenous, as well as an indirect sequel to earlier novels with the re-appearance of paranormal investigators Gavin Keoph and Karen Moffett. Ravenous is a good choice for a sequel. Its ending was wide open, the sheriff of Californian town Big Rock had been killed, along with the werewolf hunter and the werewolves had won!

We pick up the action with the lead werewolf, Irving Taggart, having taken over as sheriff, intent on taking total control of Big Rock. Our investigators have once again accepted an assignment from horror author and weird-stuff aficionado Martin Burgess and arrive in Big Rock to uncover the truth - unaware just what they about to walk into. Fortunately for them they have allies, as we discover that not every werewolf is happy with their transformation or with the intentions of pack leader Sheriff Taggart, and one or two of the unchanged townsfolk are finally determined to fight back.

There are some nasty bits in this book. Werewolf babies are born fast, strong and feral and very, very hungry, which leads to a rather pleasingly bloody and violent little birth-scene in a hospital ER - and it has an all-action, no-holds-barred gorefest of an ending.

But there is one aspect of this novel that is likely to upset some more than the flesh-ripping or graphic sex, and that's the author's treatment of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Garton was raised in this church and it's plain virtually from the start he is not a fan. It's a shame really for, though the church made a good centre for some of the action, the scathing tone adopted for these sections does distract, and could cause some to avoid reading it at all.

It's not perfect. It has flaws. But the writing is strong, the horror stronger! Garton has a great knack of writing extreme horror and strong sex (often combined). I definitely want the next Garton novel.

5 comments:

Steven Spruill said...

Nice review of an excellent novel. While it's true that some readers might find jarring the treatment of the particular Seventh-day Adventist church portrayed in the novel, it would not, in my opinion, be because of any bitterness or "scathing" prose on Garton's part but rather because some readers might be in that rather large group of people who feel that religion should not be criticized. Period. Even in a novel.

It's no coincidence that this special pass is usually asked for by the religious, themselves. We don't give such passes to any other conventional part of life, but somehow it becomes "wrong" to let a church or religion in on the novelistic fun of being among the "bad guys." I think Garton's use of this particular church as part of the villainy of the novel adds a real jolt of freshness to his narrative. The fact that he was once a Seventh-day Adventist means nothing other than that he is writing what he knows, as all good novelists should.

While it is true that Garton is breaking a taboo, in my view, it's one that should have been broken long ago in genre fiction, as it has been in so-called literary fiction. With certain real-life congregations doing egregious things like celebrating the death of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or calling on society to put gay people to death, I'd say letting a church be in there with the bad guys is not "a lick amiss," as Tom Sawyer's Aunt Polly might put it. A good novelist is not afraid to break taboos. Garton is a superb novelist and "Bestial" is a hell of a good novel.

I.E. Lester said...

Thanks for the comments on my review.

I agree that no area of human life should be given an automatic exemption from criticism but felt I had to warn people who might feel that an attack on the church is not something that they would want to read.

From the point of view of a non-Christian (in fact non-religious) person I have no problem with this, providing it doesn't overpower the plot itself.

Here he sticks to the right side of the line. It adds character to the novel without ruining the flow.

Although I do feel he is getting close to overdoing it. I can think of three books when he's portrayed the Seventh Day Adventists in a less than flattering light.

I'm hoping his next doesn't do so again.

RayGarton said...

I appreciate the review, I.E. I'm curious to know how you feel I've portrayed the Seventh-day Adventist sect "in a less than flattering light." Could you please be specific? Do you feel I have been inaccurate in my depiction of the sect?

I.E. Lester said...

Ray, sorry if wasn't clear in the response to Steven Spruill's comment.

It wasn't meant to suggest that you were in any way portraying the Seventh Day Adventists in an incorrect or inaccurate way or a deliberately defame them.

My intention in the original review was to that the villains of the piece are members of the church.

I am aware that religion is a subject that many people are intensely sensitive about and would not take well to the bad guys being the Christians. And so I wished to inform of this content.

From a personal level I have no problem with people on the bad side of a horror story being ultra-religous types and even using their religion for nefarious purposes. I have read many books where this is the case including a couple of wonderful dark fantasy novels by English writer Freda Warrington which are much more scathing of religion that your books.

But through various American friends and colleagues I have been lead to understand that on the opposite side of the Atlantic to me that having the Christians in any way not the ultimate goody-goody types can be as much a taboo as racial slurs are in the UK.

I can only apologise if my comments were misleading.

RayGarton said...

No need to apologize at all. I was just curious. Yes, it's true that here in America portraying Christians -- or any religion, really -- as anything but goodness and light is abrasive to some. Unfortunately, it's also true that here in America, the religious tend to be pretty abrasive themselves. I asked only because I genuinely wanted to know your thoughts.

The character Bob Berens in BESTIAL is based on an old friend of mine. In fact, with only a few exceptions and name changes, he and his family really exist. He's my age and still lives at home with his mother and grandmother. The sad thing is that Bob Berens is in MUCH better shape than my friend, who is utterly crippled socially and emotionally. Not only did I not exaggerate, but I toned down the truth for the book. This is a result of his religious upbringing. He's not an isolated case -- in the Seventh-day Adventist cult, I know a lot of people who are exactly like him, and for the same reasons.

If we express only agreement with and praise of religion and keep all criticism and accurate portrayal silent -- which is what the religious insist we do -- then we neglect the people who have been broken by religion. They are told that *they* are the problem, while the real problem remains unaddressed. Whether it's children molested by priests and pastors, people whose self-esteem has been shattered by emotional abuse, or those who are condemned and even persecuted by religion -- all things that are fostered and protected in religious environments -- they are buried by the constant false praise of a system that does far more harm than good. The tide is turning and people are beginning to call a spade a spade. The response to this is angry and sometimes even violent, but it's long overdue.