Ray Garton always delivers, and SHACKLED is no exception.
A tabloid reporter uncovers a scheme where children are being kidnapped and brainwashed and forced into the sex/pornography industry, under the guise of what appears to be Satanism. A pastor’s son is taken, and he teams up with the reporter and some others to get to the bottom of this nasty web of seediness and get his son back.
I’ve been trying to decide how I would classify this novel. Garton is likely most well known for his brilliant horror novels LIVE GIRLS and RAVENOUS, and he’s pumped out several other gems like THE NEW NEIGHBOR and THE LOVELIEST DEAD. I’ve read the sequels to LIVE GIRLS and RAVENOUS, both of which are top quality as well. He also writes some thrillers, like TRAILER PARK NOIR (delightfully twisted little tale) and others, and while the story falls more in line with the thrillers in his bibliography, I’ve just about decided this one must be considered horror.
SHACKLED is brutal, unflinching, uncompromising, and devastating. Garton slaps you around for a while, knocks the wind out of you, and while you’re on the ground trying to recover, he gives you a nice triple-kick to the gut to make sure you don’t forget him. And it was absolutely perfectly executed. You get to know a young girl and a very young boy who’ve been abducted and not only do you begin to care for them, but you actually come to love them. The main character shifts to a supporting role in the final third and this transition not only worked but felt seamless and was a nice break from the norm of watching your MC make it out unscathed. This guy is VERY scathed by book’s end.
There are several unexpected developments along the way, the cast of characters is large and diverse, and Garton’s signature frankness when it comes to depravity is on full display here. All aspects of this book work very well. While it was first published in the late 90s, I actually didn’t feel it was terribly dated, even with the now outdated state of the internet chatrooms and such that lead our characters to uncover the sinister goings-on. It is a novel of its time but transcends that time very well because the characters are so well drawn that it all rings true. Horrifyingly so.
There were parts of this book that were hard to read, not because they were poorly constructed, but because Garton was making sure you looked at what he was showing you, reminding you that this kind of thing DOES happen in the real world, and all too often. The mechanics of the baddies’ cover story may vary, but unfortunately, this is an all-too-real situation for many victims in the world, and I feel like he wanted to make me look at it and get me angry. And it worked. You want to get your hands on these vile villains, wring their necks, pull out their tracheas, and THEN get nasty with them. The idea that there are people so soulless in the world is haunting, and that reality is still weighing on me since finishing the book.
If you’ve read Garton before, you’re aware of his talent. I couldn’t be more pleased with my latest read, and if you haven’t read this one yet, I urge you to do so. You’ll have to grit your teeth more than once, hold your rage in check, but the way it all pans out is glorious and masterfully written by a true great in the genre. I don’t think anyone should miss this, but be warned: Ray Garton doesn’t blink. So don’t think you’re going to stare him down, especially in this one. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.