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Paul Kane Book Reviews

Review of "Before" by Paul Kane. Published by Grey Matter Press.

Ebook edition - Review by Steve Dillon

I’m not sure where to begin with my review of this latest novel from Paul Kane as it twists between timelines, locations, characters, plot, and even sub-genres. So, I feel I ought to begin by stating that Before has all the hallmarks of Kane, complete with a ton of what to me seem like Clive Barker influences without becoming imitative or derivative. The opening hooks you into a common-place horror-movie scene, minus the lightning. A young psychiatrist is offered the chance to work with his idol in 1970s Germany, who hears first-hand the deranged utterings of a man whose mind has been lost to some cosmic horror or other, we know not what that may be, or whether it is real. In chapter 2, we’re transported to jungle-warfare in South-East Asia and you now believe you’re into an archetypal military horror genre book, or movie—it’s all very cinematic to read. Then the twists come and you realise it might just be real after all.

So, that’s the first two chapters, and we’re still in Part One of the book. Part Two begins in Kirkwell (country un-stated) and introduces us to Alex, a teacher of Media and Film and his wife Beverly, as we’re immersed in their life of domestic un-bliss, a relationship clearly gone sour but there is hope for the couple who still live together and keep up the pretence of a marriage to outsiders. We also get to meet the rogue brother-in-law (and thrice-divorced) Steve as well as Alex’s friend James, and there is additional tension here. Again, Kane manages to paint the characters with broad brush-strokes then dive into minutiae which to be honest I sometimes feel is a little excessive, but at least it keeps us guessing about which characters will get killed off first (there are few red-topped cannon-fodder characters here.) I have to say I was struggling with the next chapter as it dwelt too much on domestic details I didn’t feel added value, but then, Thwoom! Kane slapped me in the face with a completely unexpected event that left me wondering if it was supernatural or psychological.

Chapter five (of part two; it gets confusing) takes us from Kirkwell to Amsterdam and we’re clearly now in serial killer country in a big way, but again the supernatural elements introduced in an earlier chapter come flooding back. Here it gets quite bloody and full of tension, with a very cinematic sequence of events and introduction to more characters you think you may never get to meet again. Or will you? That’s part of Kane’s method, I now realise: to make you to believe in a character who may or may not be disposed of several pages later. And so it continues, more characters, more killings, more supernatural elements and surprises until eventually they all come together, and in a way that makes you think, ‘of course’ and ‘I never saw that coming’ all at once. I won’t continue with a chapter by chapter summary, but let’s say that if you enjoy Barker, you will love Kane. I feel he has matured a lot and is now conjuring these fantastical workings as memorably as the master imagineer Barker, whom Kane has spent so long studying. Not to diminish Kane’s work in any way, as this is truly compelling reading and I am going to have to buy the book and read it again in its printed form. And most likely again after that, before… ah, but that’s the surprise at the bottom of the Christmas stocking and I refuse to spoil that moment for you.

Review of "Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell" by Paul Kane.

Ebook edition - review by Steve Dillon

“The world’s greatest detective crashes into Clive Barker’s infamous realm of horror in the crossover event of 2016. And Solaris is going to hell in process…The world’s greatest detective crashes into Clive Barker’s infamous realm of horror in the crossover event of 2016. ” – From the Solaris website

A long awaited piece by Clive Barker expert (according to Clive Barker himself) Paul Kane, with an introduction from Barbie Wilde, who played the female Cenobite in Hellraiser 2.

The prologue takes us right into the thick of the box-opening action. We’re sitting in that circle, surrounded by filth, obsessing over the box and how it could be opened, when… ahhhh, but that would be a spoiler, wouldn’t it? This 90,000-worder (approximately) opens with the words of Dr. Watson, who is chronicling (apparently for his own purposes) how he met Holmes and touching on some of their adventures together. This serves as a great reminder of how Holmes was always on the fringes of horror… the Hound of the Baskervilles being the most noteworthy in my mind. I’m not a Holmes expert, although I’ve read most of the stories and seen countless movies and TV adaptations, so I won’t comment on the canonical accuracy or otherwise of the references. Nor does that matter a great deal to me, although I suspect Paul Kane will have spent considerable time ensuring his references are as accurate as possible. As a Holmes fan himself, he is doubtless hoping to please the armchair sleuths who are likely to pick this up and accept it for what it is, a believable Sherlock Holmes tale. In Watson’s words, “Reality, fantasy. Truth, lies. The line between them is paper thin.” Watson claims that his notes are not intended for our eyes, and that he has made arrangements for them to be burned, which is a commonplace Lovecraftian ploy to get the reader to feel like we’ve chanced on some secret code that may unlock a puzzle… and, of course, it works. A perfectly plausible storyline follows, as Watson goes on to discuss how, after his feigned death, Holmes went travelling, and how, since Moriarty’s demise, Holmes was lacking a challenge. It’s not a great leap of intuition to put the two things together and wonder how Holmes might have sought some excitement (and danger) to keep him away from his self-destructive habits of choice.

I really enjoyed the tie-ins to the Cotton family and the address on Lodovico street, which Hellraiser fans will recognise… While the first names of the major characters echo closely the characters in the Hellraiser movie, they are clearly some predecessors from a previous era, lending a kind of alternate universe feel to a fairly familiar tale. This is a skill that Kane has mastered through various retellings of faerie tales such as his treatment in modernising Red Riding Hood in “Red” and “Blood Red”. This is something picked up by Watson himself who declared that Juliet Cotton seemed “More like a wicked stepmother from some sort of hideous fairytale.” Reflecting the commonly held observation regarding Julia in Hellraiser.

The parallels with the established Hellraiser mythos continue, and of course are augmented by the addition of Holmes and familiar characters from other well-known sources… But I won’t spoil it here.

Suffice to say, whether you’re a fan of the first two movies, or Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart novella, or Paul Kane’s Hellbound Hearts collection of short stories, or the Sherlock Holmes adventures, you’re in for a treat and I doubt if any but the most die-hard purist fan will have any qualms over Kane’s treatment of these subjects that he knows and loves so well…

Review of "Monsters" by Paul Kane

Review by Steve Dillon

What we have here is an anthology of reprints from between 1999 and 2011, complemented by a new tale from 2015. Its distinctive and decorative front cover art provided by maestro of horror Clive Barker and the introduction by writer/actor Nicholas Vince (Hellraiser, Nightbreed) will doubtless secure further loyalty from Hellraiser fans, myself included.

Paul Kane delights again with Monsters, a somewhat eclectic collection of short stories spanning several decades. The bookends, “Nightlife” (2002) and “Lifetime” (2015), are made complete by the companion centerpiece tale “Half-Life” (2011). These make up a trilogy of shorts dubbed the “Life Cycle” and are interspersed throughout the book while cleverly (I think) representing the passing of time for a group of likely lads out on the town, who then mature and, ultimately, age.

Or do they? This unholy trinity could be read as three separate standalone tales but read even better as a novella. They would be a great candidate for a movie and remind me of something you’d get if you bred The Lost Boys with the Simon Pegg movie The World’s End (2013) but without the humor. All with a Paul Kane twist of course.

  • “Dig (This)” reminded me of an old M.R. James story, albeit modernized, and was very creepy. Another visual tale, it would make for an interesting if short movie, providing relief from the ubiquitous and tedious zombie flicks that pervade our media spheres.
  • “The Disease” is disquieting, almost depressing, and has a distinctive British flavour a la Brian Lumley or Ramsey Campbell.
  • “Sabbat” is a warning to the wise concerning witches and is presented in the form of a letter to Mr. Kane, providing an almost Lovecraftian feel to the collection.
  • “A Chaos Demon Is for Life” is possibly my favorite tale and makes me think you’d get this result if you took another of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood tales, “The Yattering and Jack,” mixed it with Gremlins, and then added a children’s Christmas “Doctor Who” episode to the mix. A must-read for Christmas, in my opinion.
  • “St. August’s Flame” is offered by Kane as a Barker-esque tale. Like Barker’s own The Hellbound Heart (inspiration for the movie Hellraiser), this is a quest for a metaphorical Pandora’s box, if you like. It was surprisingly my least favorite tale in the collection, which given I’m a huge fan of Clive Barker’s work means I must read it again. Maybe I sensed the incompleteness of “St August’s Flame” and felt it could have been a much slower, more drawn out burn. Or maybe it reflected the age of the piece, being one of the earliest in the book.
  • “Keeper of the Light” reminded me of some futuristic Borderland tale by William Hope Hodgson. Very sombre and bleak. If you could imagine the movie Pitch Black but set here on Earth, it might give you the same sense of claustrophobic fear of the darkness that the lighthouse keeper in Kane’s tale must have felt.
  • What can I say about the darkly humorous ”Dracula in Love” apart from it seemed like a scene from the old family classic Carry on Screaming and shows off Paul Kane’s comedic side very clearly.
  • The hardest part about writing, sometimes, is the fear of reading other people’s work in case it influences your own story too much, or worse still, it mirrors one you’re currently writing, or even worse, surpasses one you’ve written. You don’t want to use someone else’s words, either, or to be accused of it. Yesterday, I wrote a flash fiction vignette for charity book The Refuge Collection, called “Loose Tongues.” It’s about someone with Tourette’s syndrome. The next morning I began to read Paul Kane’s “Speaking in Tongues,” which has a similar theme. I was both intrigued and mortified to think I might be accused of stealing his idea. Or was this just synchronicity at play, I wondered? Perhaps there was some global consciousness or common literary antecedent. I’d already begun to note how much Paul’s story reflects some of the notions in one of Clive Barker’s short story from The Books of Blood, “The Body Politic,” which has just been relaunched as part of The Body Book. And so the ideas go around, of course, percolating and picking up different flavours and exotic aromas in their travels. We’re all inspired by the writing of, and aspire to write like, our favourite writers. In this case, both Paul and I are self-acclaimed literary disciples of Mr. Barker. So, there is no fear of copying here, no plagiarism. "Speaking in Tongues,” by the way, at only 6 pages and slightly longer than this review, is as excellent a read as Clive’s story and fortunately is very different to my own. My fears have been completely assuaged that they are not similar. At all. There’s a voice in my head that keeps telling me so, a tongue wagging, telling me to “fucking get over it and move the fuck on.
  • A shorter review for “Star-Pool” then.  Archetypal Lovecraft-ian without resorting to the derivative. No spoilers. Beautiful.
  • “Rag and Bone” is very visceral in both senses. Another potential horror flick, if you like so-called torture porn dungeon-scene serial killer movies. I don’t usually bother, unless on the recommendation of friends who know how I like my meat to be cooked (I’m a vegetarian). So reading a torture scene was a novel experience for me, quite literally. Continuing with the tale revealed a richer plot and back story that I found intriguing, in the same way that Barker’s Midnight Meat Train ultimately revealed a mythos among the meat, a method to the madness. But the meat on the “Rag and Bone” tale is even more tender, with more of it to savour. Less of the hunt and kill, more of the story of what comes after. So enjoy the call of “Rag and bone!” And for those like me who are old enough to remember, don’t settle for a balloon on a stick!
  • I watched the screenplay adaptation of “The Weeping Woman” that came with the book first and was distracted when I came to read the tale itself. Key plot points had changed, and these had been greatly diminished I felt by their theatrical manifestation. The story became my least favorite in the collection, but perhaps my appreciation of it had been spoiled by watching the screenplay first?
  • In starkest contrast, I was instantly drawn to the main character in “Pay the Piper,” and I kept turning the pages to find out more. This is the kind of hook that keeps me reading short stories, and Kane nailed it. If “The Walking Dead” had a character like the Piper in it, I might actually have been able to watch more than the first few episodes! With obvious echoes of The Pied Piper of Hamlyn, the tale is also reminiscent of an MR James ghost story, melded with the best and most horrific of the zombie tales of old, the shuffling, relentless and pervasive resurrections that make the Biblical Revelations look tame. Bring me more of these please, Mr. Kane. And don’t stop playing the pipes!
  • “It’s All Over…” is the penultimate tale, and it has elements so commonplace to many horror stories that a plot summary would read like a sequence of verbs. But it’s how well they’re strung together that matters. A writer. Love. Conflict. Abandonment. A conference. Vanity. Flattery. Alcohol. Temptation. Resentment. Jealousy. Opportunity. Betrayal. Suicide. A dead lover. Guilt. Addiction. Doubt. Resentment. Lust. Sex. Accusations. Anger. A lonely house. A ghost. Revenge or regret? Treachery? 
  • Paul Kane stitched these words together with a likable story before closing the book with the finale of the Life Cycle

and a retrospective concerning the writing of the tales themselves.

In summary, I’ve tried to avoid giving away too many spoilers (enough of those are meted out by the monsters within!), but I hope this review has shone some light on Kane’s versatility and the range of voices he’s been able to use in creating this eclectic collection… from introspective self-analysis to humour, supernatural and paranormal, sadness and disillusion to excitement and vibrancy.

Review of "Red" and "Blood Red" by Paul Kane (Novellas)

I wrote this review as someone who had only recently discovered Paul Kane’s work. I’d read his apocalyptic novel Sleepers a couple of years ago and thought it would make a great movie, and it made me want to read more by Mr. Kane. As a fellow student and proponent of Clive Barker’s workings, Paul Kane is recognised as a world authority and a personal friend of Clive’s. He’s also an expert on Monsters, which is the title of the recently published collection of stories I’m currently enjoying, as well as various topics relating to Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.

Next year (2016,) Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, a meeting between Hellraiser‘s Cenobites and Sherlock Holmes, will be released, and that’s something I’m looking forward to… a hell of a lot. I’d also previously read some of Paul’s short stories, one of which he graciously offered (along with a rather humorous illustration of the “Breed”) for inclusion in The Book of the Tribes. This is a collaborative anthology I published in 2013 to raise funds for the screening of the “Cabal Cut” of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed in Australia, which I also organised. It was the only screening in the entire Southern Hemisphere.

So, upon receiving “Blood Red,” I was delighted to discover that Paul’s “Red” is included with it so that’s a bonus for people like me who hadn’t bought “Red” when it first bared its fangs in 2008. If you’ve already read “Red,” you”ll probably know a lot more than I do as I open the door and follow the breadcrumbs of this modern-day fairy tale. There are no breadcrumbs in this tale, however; that’s for another story which I personally hope Mr. Kane will revisit and bring his contemporary worldview to on that theme.

So, here are some spoilers… book by book, one stepping stone at a time. If you’re a person who tries to avoid spoilers, let me tell you now: There’s no escaping them here, for the whole book is full of spoilers – and very bloody ones they are too, and this review makes no apologies for providing you with a few hints of things to come.

“Red” (2008)
“Red” is the raw-meaty morsel of a novella written by Paul Kane and is included here with its sequel, “Blood Red” (2015). I didn’t read the preambles or the introduction and honorary quotes – I will savour these for my dessert! ...Well, that prologue really caught me off guard, and I’m glad I didn’t read the spoilers… I’m not normally a huge fan of up-front jump-scares and gore; my personal preference is for a slow, tortuous burn, but this isn’t that (novellas seldom have that luxury). The dramatic opening scene, then, will doubtless appeal to readers who enjoyed the “Flash, Boom!” approach most recently deployed in the opening episode of “American Horror Story – Hotel.” It leaves you breathless from start to finish, fingers bloodied as you turn the pages for more gore and lust. And yes, there is a large helping of that; isn’t that what underlies most fairy tales, anyway? Lust, moral improprieties, fangs, the sharpening of the axe, the boiling of the pot; all metaphor for sin and its consequences. Such a brutal and graphic beginning to my journey with “Red” snatched my breath and left me wanting more. It also served to yell at me, “Don”t be misled into thinking this is a fairy tale intended for children” – it clearly is not.

The main protagonist (if, like me, you see him that way) has a way with, and an appetite for, beautiful women… quite literally. His being is a hedonistic one as he repeatedly stalks new victims with which he can sate various appetites. I suspect there is a lot more to discover about this character who’s been forced to leave “the old country” for richer, easier or less risky pickings, and I will read it again because I feel there is much left unspoken, or perhaps it was missed by this reader as I ran headlong toward the woods! The other major character in “Red” is the beauty to the beast, the lamb to the slaughter. I won’t divulge more because it was over far too soon for me; always a sign of an enthralling read!

In summary, with “Red,” Paul Kane has provided a well-constructed and fast-paced visual and visceral tale, a contemporary re-telling of the “Red Riding Hood” fable; a tale which, it’s implied, is being played out for a second time – and perhaps by the same two characters!

“Red” would make a great pilot episode for TV, but I reached the end of its 80 pages far too quickly, so now to read the sequel…

“Blood Red” (2015)
I realise now that Paul Kane’s prologues are, like the flirting and seductive activities his characters are engaged in, merely a means to an end. He holds your head under water, allowing you to almost drown so that when your head is lifted again to begin Chapter One, you’re already gasping for air, the fight or flee effect has been triggered. It also challenges the normal reassurance when reading or watching horror that you at least know who is the protagonist, and who is the one we should run from. Again, not in this case…

In “Blood Red,” we continue the events and are re-acquainted with some of the surviving characters introduced in the original. We also meet several more, including the enigmatic “hunter,” along with a sort of “Sniffer” organisation, confirming to me that a future HBO-style TV series would be a natural progression from the written word. I can only hope, if that does happen, we see more of “Blood Red” than “True Blood” in the production and that its writer, Paul Kane, can keep a steady hand on the axe… erm, tiller. Whatever, you know what I mean.

“Blood Red” also provides us with an “origins” narrative, which is exactly what I was hoping for. Maybe it’s comforting for us to know where the beasts come from, so we know where or when we should look for them, or lest we fear they come from within ourselves and need to find early warning signs?

That said, I’m just off to check the mirror and investigate the palms of my hands.