Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan & Stephen Romano
Mulholland Books (www.mulhollandbooks.co.uk)
Released: 13th October
When we first meet Buck Carlsbad, at the opening of Black Light, he is hard at work, taking down a mark – a ghost that has latched onto a living person. Buck has a gift, which he calls “The Pull” that allows him to suck these marks into himself and eventually regurgitate them into a silver urn, which he then buries in his back yard, effectively sealing them away forever. These marks, when inside Buck, enhance his ability to see the Blacklight, the world in which the dead live, a sort of layering onto the real world of all past versions of that world. Buck has no idea where his gift came from – orphaned at 7, he suspects that his parents were similarly gifted, but he has been unable to find out where they disappeared to, or why the left him to fend for himself.
When Buck is hired by a billionaire businessman to protect the first journey of a high-speed train between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that runs through an area of desert that Buck calls the Blacklight Triangle – due to the high instance of ghost activity in the area – he jumps at the chance. Buck has history in the Triangle, and suspects that this train journey may be the best bet he has of finding out what happened to his parents. Assembling a team, Buck boards the train along with an assortment of film and music stars, a camera crew, and the man slated to be the next President of the USA – and his Secret Service detail – and finds himself on a high-speed journey into hell with no-one to trust but himself.
“By writers from the SAW franchise”, the book cover tells us, something which excited me until I realised that Messrs Melton and Dunstan were behind four of the later entries to a series that – in my opinion – lost the plot about ten minutes into the third instalment. So, I started Black Light with a certain amount of trepidation. We’re thrown into the middle of the action, and we discover Buck’s Gift as we watch him use it to ensnare the ghost of a child killer who is haunting his wife. Buck is a character of some depth: he’s an orphan with this strange gift, and the only conclusion he can draw is that one or other of his parents has passed it on to him. He has a strange relationship with a young woman who is head-over-heels in love with him, and an even stranger relationship with his local priest, a man who provides him with the silver urns he requires to “store” his marks. He has a long and troubled history with the Blacklight, a history that cost one man his life, and almost cost Buck his own, but for Buck it’s the only way he is ever likely to discover who he is, and where he came from.
The story starts slowly, introducing the characters, and their various abilities, and the concept of the high-speed train that runs between the Lost Angels Plaza in Los Angeles and the Dreamworld resort in Las Vegas. As we see these things spring into life around us, I couldn’t help but be struck by similarities to the third volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower epic, The Waste Lands: the Lost Angels Plaza as the Cradle of Lud; the Jaeger Laser as Blaine the Mono; the Blacklight Triangle as the waste lands themselves. Like Roland’s story, there’s an overarching sense of doom as the main players move into position, and the train readies for departure.
From that point on, around about the middle of the book, the narrative grabs the reader by the throat, throttles up a few notches, and drags us along for a ride that moves as fast as the train itself. There is no let-up in the action, and I would certainly recommend trying to read this portion of the book in a single sitting for maximum effect. The authors have a fine grasp of how to move a story along at breakneck pace, and how to keep the reader interested. The story is extremely visual, cinematic in its approach and scope. The book cover adds to this illusion, a movie poster that is eye-catching and intriguing. There are times when it seems we’re reading a film script – or a Matthew Reilly novel – but thankfully they’re few and far between. There is no mistaking that these are very talented writers who have done an excellent job of translating their skills of writing for the screen to writing an engaging and extremely entertaining novel.
Dark, gory and brilliantly-plotted, Black Light combines the elements of a good horror novel, with the stylistic tics of a mystery story, and the pace and tone of the best thrillers on the market. Melton, Dunstan and Romano have created, in Buck Carlsbad, a likeable, if somewhat damaged, character that the reader can identify with and root for. They’ve also created a mythology and backstory that is solid and original. The combination make this one to watch, and a dead cert for a series of novels and films charting Buck’s journey. If you’re a fan of Felix Castor or John Constantine, or are looking for a horror story that’s a bit different from the norm, then Black Light is the book for you.