Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
Unless genre readers have been living in a fall-out shelter for the past thirty years, Paul Kane’s affiliation with (and great affection for) Hellraiser is no secret. He is quoted by Barker himself as ‘the resident Hellraiser expert’. But if it still remains unclear then fear not, there are unmistakable nods to this affiliation early on in Kane’s collection, Monsters. A terrific Barker painting stalks the cover, for example, while an introduction from Cenobite Nicholas Vince tells us that monsters come in all forms, with humans often pushing in ahead of the amoral queue.
There is always a danger that such franchises cast mighty shadows over the original works of those associated with them. So it was of interest to this reviewer to see if this was the case when reading Kane’s latest offering.
With the exception of the tale Lifetime, Monsters is a collection of reprinted stories spanning a 17 year period in Kane’s extensive career. Despite the convoluted publishing timeline there is a surprising consistency in the writing, proving that these tales may well be a mixed bag but they remain as relevant today as the respective decades in which they were written. The narrative is strong and assured, as you would expect from someone of Kane’s calibre, mesmerising the reader with the ease of a sales assistant who has mastered the art of hypnosis.
Reviews are inherently subjective, especially when applied to collections. But this reviewer argues that this is part of their appeal, much like the songs on an album, some resonate more than others.
Kane’s whimsical approach to storytelling apparent in Dracula in Love, A Chaos Demon is Forever, and Guilty Pleasures is delightful, at once blending humour and poignant satire.
In Dracula in Love, the titular count seeks out therapy to address his infatuation with a young woman duped into visiting his castle. Love-struck and off his game, Dracula is advised to talk things through with his beau, with a deliciously dark and humorous outcome.
A Chaos Demon is for Life … The parents of a young boy summon a demon for his Christmas present, only for it to run amok in a quirky story laced with outlandish action and Dhalesque imagery.
Guilty Pleasures is a poignant, delicate tale that tells of a guilt demon and its cynical influence on the lives and decisions of ordinary people. It ends on an ironic, philosophical note, and the story themes do linger in the psyche, easily making it my personal favourite from the collection.
The Keeper of Lights is a sombre, atmospheric tale of a world slowly succumbing to a perpetual darkness that hides terrible things, kept tenuously at bay by a failing system of light houses. This is a brooding, powerful story with an ending that leaves the reader with an ambiguous feeling of dark hope.
Overall, Monsters is a solid collection, reaffirming Kane as a writer of quality, a celebration of his longstanding ability to create unique worlds of fear and whimsy. It leaves no doubt that, far from being lost in the shadows of the Hellraiser mantle, here is a writer basking only in a light of his own making.