About a month ago I reviewed the debut novel by horror icon director Tobe Hooper (click here). Earlier today I finished reading the debut novel by horror writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (and Stephen Romano), BLACK LIGHT. What’s that? You say their names don’t sound familiar? Well first off, shame on you!! This writing duo hit the scene hard in 2005 with the high energy creature flick FEAST. Since then they (together) wrote two more FEAST sequels, SAW films 4-6 & SAW 3D, THE COLLECTOR, and the upcoming PIRANHA 3DD and the sequel to THE COLLECTOR, THE COLLECTION. They have some pretty solid and gory films under their belts, for sure!! That’s why I was so excite when publisher Mulholland Books sent me over an advance of the novel to read and review (it’ll be released on October 5, 2011). BLACK LIGHT, you’re probably thinking, is full of blood, guts, and gore, right? Eehhh let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
BLACK LIGHT is the story of Buck Carlsbad, a guy who has a very special gift. Buck can talk to dead people and also track/hunt down the more malevolent spirits who possess people, and through using The Pull can essentially suck the evil spirit out of the person possessed and contain it in his own body. Like I said; it’s a pretty special gift. As the novel moves along, Buck finds himself at the center of potentially extremely dangerous situation. Eccentric ga-gillionaire Sydney Jaeger, has built a state of the art train that travels from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in about 2 hours. It’s the fasted thing ever built and uses cutting edge technology that essentially lifts the train off the tracks as it gets faster and faster. The only problem is the train shoots right through The Black Light Triangle, a dangerous part of the desert where Buck had a run in many years ago with something that almost killed him. So to cover all his bases, Jaeger hires Buck to be on the train’s maiden voyage to ensure nothing paranormal goes wrong. Buck assembles his team and before you can say, “We’re fucked,” things go terribly wrong.
There’s a lot going on in BLACK LIGHT and Melton and Dunstan (along with Romano) stay focused on the story and never let it get out of control. The novel takes many twists as a conspiracy is unveiled and Buck finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble. The character of Buck Carlsbad is very well written and we get a pretty amazing story arc for this character. Buck starts off as a semi-confident “ghost hunter” (for lack of a better term) who suddenly finds himself in a situation where he has lost control and put himself and everyone around him in very serious danger. But Buck also finds a sense of redemption from his fuzzy and violent past. Everything connects nicely here and we get a satisfying resolution that ties up all the various story lines. Unfortunately Buck is pretty much the only character that we really “get to know.” We get some depth with other characters, but for the most part the other players in BLACK LIGHT are pretty shallow.
The story itself is pretty damn interesting and will definitely keep your attention. I must admit that I had a little trouble getting into the story at first. I found myself about a hundred pages in before it really grabbed me. But I’m glad I stuck with it because the second half of the book is a real roller coaster ride that was hard to put down.
There’s also a very Noir-like edge to BLACK LIGHT as Buck narrates the story. I liked this element and thought it helped a lot to create and sustain the dark atmosphere and tone of the book. But I was surprised (well, actually shocked) by the lack of gore in the novel. I mean seriously; Melton and Dunstan wrote the goddamn FEAST trilogy, four of the gorier SAW flicks, and the very gory THE COLLECTOR. But BLACK LIGHT isn’t trying to be a horror novel. This is a supernatural-action-thriller, and in this aspect it works … extremely well. Buck is like a high-tech exorcist, with an attitude and the ability to kick your ass good. At first I wasn’t too crazy about the lead character being able to see and interact with dead people. I felt I was getting another Koontz-esque Odd Thomas-like character. Maybe Melton and Dunstan start off with a familiar ‘talking-to-the-dead’ character, but they end up with creating a pretty damn fascinating modern day human ghost hunter who experiences very real pain and suffering when he uses his gift. Buck is a great character that I could see become the star of a series of novels.
BLACK LIGHT is a solid novel that is well written, fast-paced, and has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing and wondering what the hell is actually going on. A little more character development of some of the other players in the novel would have made BLACK LIGHT a novel to be reckoned with, but hey; this is their first novel … I’m gonna cut them some slack!! BLACK LIGHT is a damn fun read and there’s many parts that’ll have you turning on more lights in the house as you read it. BLACK LIGHT is slated to be released October 5, 2011 … perfect timing for a really fun Halloween read!! Check this one out.
Authors: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, Stephen Romano
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer