Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
The town of Bristol, Massachusetts has found itself at the heart of an age-old battle between evil and, well, not-as-evil. It begins with a series of macabre events. A small boy goes missing, assumed abducted by his deadbeat, estranged father. When the prime suspect turns up dead, butchered beyond recognition, and the grieving browbeaten mother burns to death in the family home, it becomes clear things are not quite on an even keel. As incident after incident befalls the town, chief teenage protagonist, Ben Harris, and his gang of school friends link these events with the Lupescus, a new family consisting of Greg, a boy of Ben’s age, Alexandru his elusive, nocturnal father and their butler-come-bodyguard, Karl. The mystery is given an extra layer by the Lupescus’ choice of home, a notorious murder house on the outskirts of town.
Ben and his young sister Eve begin to experience strange manifestations and pre-cognitions associated with the Lupescus. When Ben befriends the mysterious teen, he is amazed by the almost supernatural abilities Greg demonstrates when they are besieged by a local gang of misfits intent on making Ben’s life a misery.
As the relationship develops (and the killings continue) it becomes apparent that no one is safe from the horrors, even the assumed perpetrators of the terrible events going on in the town. The Lupescus have their own troubles to contend with, including a hideous past that is hell-bent on catching up with them. When Ben has a vision of Eve being abducted and held captive by Alexandru, he knows he has to solve the mysteries of what their intentions are, before it is too late.
ETERNAL DARKNESS is Deady’s second book after the phenomenal HAVEN, which saw the writer netting the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel earlier this year. I recall my previous BFS review of that particular book ended with the question as to how the writer would follow such an achievement. It was a tough benchmark to meet from the outset, so felt it fair to park HAVEN aside and view ETERNAL DARKNESS as a separate entity, without the shackles and preconceptions associated with prestigious accolades.
In the introduction by Richard Chizmar, the Cemetery Dance editor makes clear the associations often made between Deady and the work of his literary hero, Stephen King. In this introduction, Chizmar also cautions against ascribing Deady’s work as King parodies suggesting such a perspective is simplistic, and short-sighted.
This is a view in which this reviewer has to concur. King’s reach on the modern genre writer, consciously or not, is significant. So, if there is any true influence of King on Deady then it lies in his ability to create enduring characters, painstakingly developing depth that shapes and ultimately drives not just how they behave, but how they interact with each other, and the world about them. There are no cardboard cutouts on show here, or characters serving the ungainly role of plot device. Each is clearly crafted with love, even those of an unsavoury nature and ultimately, as a reader, one invests, one cares about what happens to them. There are going to be references to SALEM’S LOT, and IT. We have a gang of kids at the heart of the story, trying to solve a mystery, with the support of a smattering of adults. There are vampires afoot in an old, abandoned house. These are tropes used by countless writers and Deady polishes and proudly displays them with gusto. Yet these trophies are mere veneer to what is actually going on. Beneath the usual we also have a unique take on the vampire genre, where the complexities of being undead clash with Lupescus’ attempts to maintain some semblance of normalcy in the quest to raise his son.
Deady handles these contradictions in a voice purely of his own making, adding wry humour and gore in equal measure. The ending is arresting – a curveball that will inspire or frustrate, if you will – leaving much for the reader to think about, but think about it a reader undoubtedly will.
ETERNAL DARKNESS is a worthy follow up to HAVEN, and demonstrates that Deady is growing as a writer, certainly in his ability to create characters and tales that linger in the psyche.