Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #350
Author: C. William Giles
Suggested Audio Candy
Slayer “God Send Death”
In September 2013, I was fortunate enough to make what I regard as a considerable discovery. It was purely by chance that I happened across the first novel by C. William Giles named …of Tortured Faustian Slumbers and I felt obliged to give it the time of day. Traditionally, reading has never really been my thing and, in my entire lifetime, I had only ever read two books from cover to cover. Yet, one chapter was all it took and I found myself somewhat mesmerized by the excruciatingly descriptive and vivid opening scene. It is often stated that a scribe has a very limited time in which to make an impression on his addressee and this has never been more true than when the reader has a tendency to skim read coupled with a woefully short attention span. However, having finished the prologue I felt compelled to stay. Three days later, in what has to be a record for such an easily railroaded subject, I reached the end.
The fact that I even read this work from front to back is something of an assurance of quality from Keeper. Many novels would have fallen by the wayside after failing to pull me in within the first few turns but it fast became clear that I was in this to the bitter end through very little choice of my own. That choice was taken away from me unceremoniously by a scribe who knows the best way to engage his audience; from the get go. What was more extraordinary given the brisk pace in which this story dug its filthy nails into my psyche, was that he maintained this right through the remainder of the novel. After introducing a main protagonist clearly close to Giles’ own heart, a certain Severin Frost came into play and it was game over for Keeper at that point.
The author found the perfect balance to strike between humanity and monstrosity, with Severin Frost leaving a tangible bitter twang on all five of my senses. My first reaction, other than the abject horror provoked by this smirking assassin’s every last word, was of sheer delight. It is no small feat to create a protagonist capable of fleshing out before your very eyes but Giles left just enough to the imagination while still exposing ample to ensure that he lived and breathed beyond the source material. I’m assured that Mr Frost will one day make his comeback and that the story has not yet fully been told. However, for the moment, there are other more pressing matters at hand.
Which brings us tidily to Giles’ follow-up work, tantalizingly named The Darkness of Strangers, which has the unenviable task of trumping a particularly potent start to his career as a horror novelist. Historically it is such a second outing that separates the men from the boys. It’s no different in music or film. There’s additional pressure when your debut has exceeded expectations so effortlessly and often artists struggle to repeat such a feat with any real conviction. However, Giles made the brave decision to bypass the suburban Gothic theme of Slumbers instead focusing on bringing us a dystopian tale of sorts. While this may seem like something of a departure, he makes the transition utterly smoothly.
Like its predecessor, The Darkness of Strangers wastes no time in going for the jugular while admirably restraining from simply going all-in at the offset. The reason for this is that this is a far more wide-reaching tale, with more characters to introduce, and a much larger canvas to paint. However, one thing was conspicuous, that being the desire I felt to continue thumbing its pages. Bastard had only gone and done it again hadn’t he? Although his set-up is markedly more patient second time around, he still understands what many writers fail to ascertain. That every word is expensive. There is no fat on these bones, merely the lean meat of a writer who appreciates his readership enough to feed them at regular intervals and ensure that they not be left at all wanting.
Set in London a few years from now, the once proud city is now a hive of debauchery, corroding from the inside out and one man owns the monopoly. Unscrupulous magnate Balthazar Reich has the entire sector under stranglehold and demonstrates his superiority from within Reich Tower, a seemingly impregnable high-rise monolith which stands above the rest of the district overbearingly. On ground level, it’s everyone for themselves and the entire metropolis becomes gripped with fear when a spate of brutal murders begin playing out against its bleak backdrop. The police are largely ineffectual and clueless as to who or what exactly is responsible for the homicides, whereas an elite task force by the name of Project 13, led by the no-nonsense Elisabeth Ravenscroft, have their own rationale for getting to the bottom of the atrocities.
The butcher in question strikes from the shadows cast by the skyscraping stronghold and is swift, merciless, and decisive with his spiteful sanction. Yet, where Severin Frost was a commanding figurehead, Azriel is content to lurk in the darkest recesses and scoff at the inadequacy of those supposedly maintaining order. However, for as much as his threat is omnipresent throughout, he is not the only source of darkness and, where some bask in their tenebrosity, others have dark secrets which remain obscured, the ramifications of which are far-reaching and showcase the desperation of this decadent gravel pit of opposing loyalties.
There is no end of incident and Giles keeps a python-like grip on proceedings just as he did with …of Tortured Faustian Slumbers, ensuring that we don’t decipher the conundrum until he sees fit to enlighten us. There are a plethora of variables, twists and turns unbounded, and anyone at all can be unceremoniously snuffed out at any given moment. The more he reveals, the more we are left in the darkness and that word is key throughout. We all possess our demons but some of us are better at masking them than others; very much like the pawns in this game. His descriptive method of relaying each detail, whether integral to the plot or seemingly insignificant, ensures that we remain invested and, moreover, places us into this desolate suburban sewer, spins us on the spot, then pulls the rug from beneath our feet when we’re least expecting it. I cannot guarantee that your stay will be comfortable but I can state with vehemence that you will not soon forget your time here.
What Giles has achieved with The Darkness of Strangers is no less than astounding. How does one conceivably follow such an audacious feat as embodying the Prince of Darkness himself with such indisputable authenticity? He fashions a world which we can relate to, somewhere not altogether different from where things may well be headed if we don’t get our act together post-haste, and reminds us that hell on Earth need not necessarily be fire and brimstone. His second novel is every bit as visual as its precursor; suggesting once again that his works would be perfectly suited to cinematic translation. In short, he is ultimately destined to be mentioned in the same breath as the great literary horror writers of our times and The Darkness of Strangers is living proof that C. William Giles is here for the long haul.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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