★★★★★ Vamping it up

Vamping it up, October 30, 2010
By Aeschylus

This review is from: Darkened Hills (Paperback)
Review copied from amazon.com

“Darkened Hills” skilfully brings the gothic style and the Dracula legend to small-town America, to create a gripping narrative of terror and justice. Extraordinary events overtake the most ordinary place; the only sign of trouble is what you find when you spell “Melas” backwards.

The novelist Gary Lee Vincent gets this just right. Those who live and die in this gorefest deserve little sympathy, by and large. The suburban spying spinster; the voyeuristic security guard with the odd pastime of “cat-herding”; the venal, alcoholic estate agent; the laissez-faire police deputy who writes his reports while driving his car; all of these people are caught up in a growing terror.

The landscape is dominated by the brooding presence of the Madison House on Raccoon Run Road, a mansion with a murky past and murkier occupants. Who exactly is the European aristocrat with the limousine and the bad skin?

A man and a boy have been running away from the emotional fallout of past tragedy and loss. They come back from the wilderness, to face their fears, and dispense justice, so that there is closure for them and all the victims. You could say that the old-style Western, like some of the characters here, is hard to kill off; it refuses to die!

I specially like the way the novel takes on the qualities of a play and even, occasionally, a cartoon. There’s more blood than in any Greek tragedy. There are stooges who are like the comedy characters in Shakespeare’s tragedies. There are two grand, sweeping set pieces which prove the optimistic point that, in the end, good will triumph. And there’s a sense of authenticity about the dark elements which means that the fun never undermines the potential seriousness of the theme.

The characters are very real, and each one is drawn in a way that suits their place and importance in the terrible unfolding drama exactly. We should applaud the writing craft that goes into achieving this.

There are plenty of laughs along the way, but the comedy is black, and the atmosphere menaces and growls at us just like it should.

It’s a clever plot, which Vincent handles with enormous confidence and virtuosity. There’s the odd memorable piece of description- one character has “a memory like a steel trap”- but the writing is never self-indulgent. Pace is all-important and most readers will devour this in a single sitting.

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