Simon Clark’s ‘Darker’ – A Review

This was the first book I’ve read by modern British horror phenom Simon Clark, and it was not a bad introduction to his writing, but I’m willing to wager this isn’t his strongest novel.  Clark’s writing style here is lean and his chapters are extremely short, both of which are a good fit for what is essentially a chase story.  The concept behind it is not exactly original–it bears more than a passing resemblance to Dean Koontz’s The Door to December.

The book centers on a young couple, Richard and Christine Young, who, along with their four-year-old daughter Amy and Christine’s bumbling smart-ass brother Joey (go ahead and try not to picture Ricky Gervais as this character, seriously), get sucked into the orbit of a desperate man named Michael, who is on the run from some giant  invisible force he calls the Beast.  Meanwhile, Michael is also being pursued by a teenage girl, Rosemary Snow, who intends to do him bodily harm after he left her to die at the, er, “hands” of the Beast, though mostly she’s upset that her run-in with the monster has left her facially disfigured.  Hmm, sounds like the motivation of every Batman villain ever.  Anyway, things are not what they seem with Michael, who isn’t telling the Youngs everything he knows about the Beast, and who quickly starts cultivating a particularly creepy relationship with little Amy.  Does he have ulterior motives?  Signs point to ‘yes’ pretty much from the get-go, and the reader can see what’s coming from miles–excuse me, kilometers (this is a British novel)–away.

As far as actual horror elements go, the novel is aggravatingly slight on them.  There are a few scenes of the Beast smashing people and objects to a pulp, but they play out more like a bloody Tarantino film than a horror novel.  In fact, the story is much more action-suspense than it is horror.  The fate of one of the main characters at the very end of the novel was pretty disturbing, but one almost gets the impression Clark wrote the entire novel just so he’d have an excuse to write that scene.  Almost.  Still, the plot is straightforward and flies by–as it should–and most of the characters seem genuine and well-rounded, particularly Michael (I kept picturing Rhys Ifans doing a slight variation on his Mycroft Holmes character from the CBS series Elementary) and Rosemary.  Little Amy was realistic enough as far as child characters go, even if she serves basically as little more than the story’s MacGuffin through most of it.  Clark is hardly the first genre writer to fall into that trap with children though, and he’s certainly far from the worst offender I’ve encountered.

There were some questionable narrative choices in the book.  About halfway in, for example, Clark invents a reason to get Richard and the sixteen-year-old Rosemary naked and lip-locked in a scene that feels more like a middle aged man’s fantasy come to life than an organic and necessary plot element.  Luckily he doesn’t carry it too far.  Instead he leaves it as an unresolved loose end, which I suppose was moderately better than having his hero, a married father of two, cheat on his wife with a teenage girl while in the midst of rescuing his family from an evil bastard.  Then there’s Joey, who is more of a foil to Richard than a character with real motivations.  The guy seems incapable of making good choices even when he tries.  Which he usually doesn’t.  And you just know as soon as he’s introduced that he’s destined to screw shit up somewhere along the way.  Which he does.

In short, nothing groundbreaking here, but all in all a decent read that has piqued my interest in Clark.  I’ll be giving another of his novels a try at some point.  Anyone have any recommendations?

Grade: B-

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