July 15, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Crimson" by Gord Rollo

Title: Crimson
Author: Gord Rollo
Published: Leisure Books (2009)
Pages: 326
Genre: Horror
ISBN 10: 0-8439-6195-3
ISBN 13: 978-0-8439-6195-9
E-ISBN: 1-4285-0613-6

A novel that is heralded via a blurb on the back cover as "Stephen King's It's superior in every possible way" is going to have an uphill battle to impress readers before they even read the first page. I haven't even read It yet, but the notoriety alone told me that the praise from Horror Web for Crimson was on the heavy side for this novel. Still, I wanted to give it a fair shake.

Crimson carries us through three "books" that tell the life of David Winter--in youth, adolescence, and adulthood--along with his three childhood friends, Johnny, Tom, and Peter. As young boys, they spend the night at Johnny's house, which is fabled as the house of Old Man Harrison--a man responsible for some truly sick atrocities in the small town of Dunnville, Ontario. Their youthful hijinks is quickly thrown into the meat grinder, however, when they inadvertently awaken a creature they believe to be Old Man Harrison back from the grave.

The creature targets the boys with devious intentions and haunts them in their dreams and stalks them when they're awake. The torment visited upon the boys in 70s, carries on into the 80s during their adolescence, and even upon the boys who remain in the early years of the new millennium. All the while, the boys are given brief reprieves from their agony, but ultimately they always walk under the hanging blade in the creature's grasp. And it has some very long-range plans in order to break out into the world again to start up the evil it once leveled upon the land.

Reading Crimson, I was a bit torn. I liked quite a few parts of the book and the initial premise of the novel. But the narrative of the story, especially in the time jumps between the three main sections, came off as fractured. The story starts off as a harried supernatural tale of innocence versus evil, but then the focus seems to shift when a couple of the boys in their teens are targeted and manipulated in such convoluted fashion, I had to wonder if the creature had forgotten what his ultimate goal was. Then, the third section of the book goes way off in the left field, changing tone, setting, and direction altogether--it felt like the main story was saved for the very end and all that came before was merely prelude.

The monster in the bottom of the well--where he first appears to stalk the boys--is one helluva gruesome character. His antics come off as tortuous at times, and I had a hard time establishing in my mind what its limitations were within the known universe. At one point, it can manifest bloodcurdling creatures to chase and taunt the boys, and then it seems to abandon all that to hide in a closet and snigger, then creep into the dreams of the boys and torture them psychologically ad nauseam.

As for the boys, especially David Winter, it was kind of hard to root for them because they kept attempting the dumbest antics in order to thwart this quasi-omnipotent entity--I mean, a gun ... to kill the supernatural monster? Really? The naivety of youth, perhaps, but those moments really made be groan while reading. And a scene between David and the creature at one point where there is a huge, huge info dump about the monster's past and true intentions was so artificial in feel, I just about checked out.

The book has redeeming moments throughout thanks to well crafted scenes, including a devastating prologue involving Old Man Harrison's final deeds before killing himself, and some particularly tense fight scenes that take place in a junkyard and a prison. While reading, I felt like the story hearkened to a time in the eighties when these monsters tormenting the young were in high fashion, which was a bit of a nice throwback. And as a Canadian, it's not often I get to enjoy a horror novel that uses a Canadian setting. But for me, the separate parts weren't quite enough to make the whole feel as great as it should have been. An enjoyable read, but a bit of a frustrating one too.

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