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Friday, September 23, 2011

“Black Light” by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan & Stephen Romano (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “Black LightHERE (US) + HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan have written the screenplays for Saw IVSaw VSaw VISaw 3D, and The Collector, which Dunstan also directed. Currently, they are filming The Collection—a sequel to The Collector—and wrote Piranha 3DD, which comes out this Thanksgiving from Dimension Films. Black Light is their debut novel.

Stephen Romano is an acclaimed author, screenwriter and illustrator. His works include the illustrated novel Shock Festival and adapting Joe R. Lansdale’s Incident On and Off a Mountain Road for Showtime’s Emmy Award-winning series Masters Of Horror.

PLOT SUMMARY: If you have a supernatural problem that won't go away, you need Buck Carlsbad: private eye, exorcist, and last resort. Buck's got a way with spirits that no one else can match, and a lot of questions that only spirits can answer.

Buck has spent years using his Gift to look into the Blacklight on the other side of death, trying to piece together the mystery of his parents and why he can’t remember anything before the age of seven. His quest for answers led him to the Blacklight Triangle, a stretch of unforgiving desert known for the most deadly paranormal events in history. A place where Buck almost died a few years ago, and where he swore he would never return.

But then Buck takes a call from billionaire Sidney Jaeger, and finds himself working the most harrowing case of his career. One that will either reveal the shocking secrets of his life, or end it forever...

FORMAT/INFO: Black Light is 336 pages long divided over twenty-three titled chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the protagonist Buck Carlsbad. Black Light is self-contained, but is the first volume in a proposed series. October 5, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Black Light via Mulholland Books. The UK version (see below) will be published on October 13, 2011 via Mulholland UK.

ANALYSIS: On the surface, Black Light features many of the same traits regularly employed in the urban fantasy genre including a contemporary setting, a first-person narrative, a cynical protagonist, et cetera. However, the book possesses some key ingredients that help differentiate the novel.

First and foremost is Buck Carlsbad’s unique Gift, which allows him to Pull a ghost/spirit into his body—imagine a human version of the proton pack and trap from Ghostbusters. Once a spirit is ingested, Buck can then see into the Blacklight, the world of the dead. Not only that, but he also has the ability to pull Artifacts from the Blacklight back into the real world, which plays an important role in the novel. Containment meanwhile, is a whole different matter involving regurgitation and silver urns.

Next, Black Light is immensely entertaining, fueled by breakneck pacing and an action-packed story. Granted, things take a little while to get going after the initial introduction to Buck Carlsbad and his Gift, but once Buck finds himself on a maglev train facing off against the Blackjack Nine, Black Light goes into overdrive for the rest of the novel, highlighted by surprising twists and nearly nonstop excitement. What makes Black Light even more fun to read is the book’s refreshing mix of noir-influenced urban fantasy and in-your-face, R-rated horror. We’re talking grisly violence, profanity, explicit gore, a high body count, the works.

Finally, the prose in Black Light, particularly the scenes where Buck is using his Gift and looking into the Blacklight, is visceral and gripping:

The heat washes over my body, weaker than ever before, but then I tighten my grip on the madness, giving myself to it . . . and the madness is good, the madness fuels my body in a dreamtime sizzle, bursting and flashing, energizing. The dark blue glow intensifies. The voices of a million billion angry bastards rip off in my ears, thundering in the infinite spaces set before me, the neon-striped outlines of the real world just outside the menagerie of slithering zero gravity shapes, like half-formed moray eels and faces filled with burning eyes and cursing tongues.

As impressive as the prose might be, the rest of the authors’ performance is uneven. Characterization for example, is shallow and unemotional. So as badass as Buck Carlsbad is with his powers and martial arts skills, I never really sympathized with the protagonist or his plight. And don’t even get me started on the one-dimensional supporting cast. Dialogue and plotting on the other hand, are both fairly solid, if not conventional, specifically the banter and various plot devices used throughout the narrative. Creatively, I loved Buck’s Gift and the Blacklight, but things do get a little far-fetched, especially towards the end of the novel when events venture into comic book-like territory.

CONCLUSION: Black Light may be rough around the edges due to weak characterization and uneven writing, but the novel’s action-packed story and refreshing mix of horror & urban fantasy helped mask the book’s shortcomings, while delivering a thrilling reading experience. In the end, Black Light entertained the hell out of me and I sincerely hope Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan & Stephen Romano offer up another serving of Buck Carlsbad in the very near future...

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