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Blessing in disguise
by Asa Butcher
Issue 12
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Joe Donnelly
Arrow, 1991
Bane, n: something that causes misery or death.

'Bane' was not a warning about the quality of the book, just the title of a cracking horror/suspense novel penned by Joe Donnelly. I had never heard of the author or read any horror, so the experience was an enlightening and lightning one.

Donnelly has been described by some as the British Stephen King, which is a comparison I can neither confirm nor deny since I have never read anything by King, but if it is true then I can't wait to read him work. Bane powers its way to the finale, with every chapter throwing a fraction of light on the mystery, further sick twists of horror and paragraphs that make you shudder at the author's imagination.

The book begins with journalist Nick Ryan returning home to the small Scottish town of Arden to start work on his new novel, but he is soon plagued by horrific nightmares and witnesses some shocking tragedies. He slowly realises that the events are not a coincidence; they are the work of an ancient evil that Nick and his two friends encountered twenty years before. The town becomes cut off from the world and its inhabitants are plunged into murderous mayhem from which only Nick, the daughter of his childhood friend and a mentally challenged man can save them.

Describing the book as 'fast-paced' doesn't feel enough, since the book has the feel of a movie treatment. The story really reads like a film; character development is succinct, the action is vividly described and the dialogue between the characters has a touch of cinema about it. The book's cover carries a quote from the defunct Today newspaper, 'Scales the heights of sheer horror…not for the faint-hearted', which is a tad over the top.

The book does have some scary parts that freaked me, although claiming it 'scales the heights…' is overkill and warning the faint-hearted to stay away is going too far. The scariest moments come through the author's descriptions of the town becoming delusional and psychotic, but they are more sickening than scary.

Donnelly blends normal characters, far-fetched legends and real places in a way that brings added realism to the plot. Bane is also written in the first person that puts you in the hero's mind and subsequently terror, especially during the final few chapters. I have to mention that the book contains one of the coolest vicars in literature and he almost influences you to reaffirm your faith.

Bane was a thoroughly good read, with plenty of ghastly killings and events that do real psychological damage, plus all the main characters are immediately likeable. You can read this in a matter of days, while the echoes of the killings will haunt you for weeks to come; the fact that it is only fiction is a blessing in disguise.
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