I’ve read quite a bit of Keene’s work over the years. Nowhere near all of it, but a fair amount. Something I’ve learned along the way with him is that there is a REASON he’s a legend in the horror community. His characters connect with the reader, come across less like the ideas from someone’s imagination but rather like real individuals. He’s got some grand ideas about multiple worlds and different dimensions and God and the devil and other gods and creatures and so on.
Of the books of his I’ve read, I still say Ghoul is my favorite, but much of that is the fact that I just love coming-of-age stories, especially when they’re set back when I was growing up. So Ghoul has that going for it ON TOP OF being just a terrific novel. But…I have found what I would consider my favorite Keene this side of Ghoul, and that would be DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.
We have that awakes to find that some sort of darkness has surrounded it from above and at all sides, and anyone who ventures into the darkness never returns, but their screams can be heard from time to time. The darkness also seems to be showing things to people when they get close; things that scare them sometimes, other times loved ones enticing them to come just a little closer. But whatever the darkness is, it’s evil, and a strange homeless man in town seems to have kept the darkness from coming inside of the town. He’s held it at bay with magic. But the darkness can still play with their minds.
I wasn’t so sure about the premise here when I started, though Keene has never let me down. It seemed a lot like The Mist by Stephen King to me, but once I actually started reading, I saw that it was entirely its own story, having little to do with King’s story. This was really a terrific powerhouse of a novel, pulsing with increasing dread throughout all the way to the bitter, breath-stealing ending.
Let’s talk about that ending for just a second, without giving anything away. The novel builds a little slowly, but I wouldn’t call it a slow burn. We’re dropped right into the craziness from page one and hear about how it came about. We watch as people in town are growing more and more paranoid, their morals are deteriorating, their sanity is crumbling. It’s leading to what I was expecting to be an apocalyptic finale. But it takes a different turn, and I really think it was the right choice. It’s more of an unknowing ending. There’s a sprinkling of hope, but there’s also gallons of forboding doom as well. The fact is, we don’t know what’s going to happen. And there’s no need for a sequel to come along and tell us (though I’d read it in a heartbeat if one came along), because in the context of this story, it’s just a perfect ending.
Stephen King said this book was a terrific short novel. I have to agree. For some, the ending seems anticlimactic. But I disagree. The battles being waged in the characters’s minds is where the suspense came from and the ramping up of tension from the situation of the darkness is nearly secondary. Because of this, I thought it was a terrific book with a terrific ending that would have been cheapened if done any other way, and I’m thankful that Brian has such a Keene (pun intended, wow, that joke came out of nowhere) eye for such things.
If you like horror, get this. If you like Keene, get this. If you like character-driven studies in human psychology during a stressful event, get this. For me, it hit all the right notes. In fact, it was so good I immediately went out and got another Keene novel to rip into next. I rarely do that, reading the same author multiple times in a row. But Keene’s books are something special. Read this, and find out why. Get it in print, digital, or audiobook here.