Filler content in which heaven’s falling

We are creeping ever closer to the moment when I might be able to blog something new, my pretties, but in the meantime you know the drill.

This was posted to the old TTA Press website on 18 July 2007:-

Hadesgate paperback, 379pp, £11.99

Private eye Virgil Kain is out on a job when he is shot by his client, a woman who seems strangely familiar. He wakes to find himself in Limbo, and is informed that he is in fact the Biblical Cain, who has been reincarnated repeatedly throughout history, growing all the while in moral stature and atoning for his past. But something has gone wrong with the plan. Kain should not have been killed, and now he has to find his murderer or the whole fabric of Heaven and Hell will collapse.

So much for back story. The book now hits the road. With the Devil, who in this scheme of things is a hot chick called Lucy, and ass kicking demon Damien as his companions, Kain travels through various realms, having encounters with celestial and spiritual entities, fighting off hordes of malevolent monsters. Eventually he comes to a strange other world, one long thought destroyed, ruled over by his mother Eve, who is completely mad and intent on overthrowing God Himself, which is when Kain’s troubles really begin.

Charles is being marketed as a Horror writer, but I’m not convinced it’s a cap that fits, at least as far as this novel is concerned. Merging Horror and Fantasy for the Twenty First Century is publisher Hadesgate’s tagline, and given the quest and mythic elements combined with the high gore quotient that would seem more appropriate as regards Heaven’s Falling, as if Tolkien had decided not only to give us battles between men and monsters, but to do so with gut crunching and bone breaking detail, his heroes wading through rivers of blood to reach their goal. It is, to be blunt, not for the squeamish (and why should it be?), with Charles describing in graphic detail atrocities and bloody battles, sparing neither his heroes nor the sensibilities of the reader.

Well, it’s a war, so what were you expecting? Things get messy, and that’s all she wrote.

There are problems with the book. Heaven’s Falling is very obviously a first novel, and the writing is raw, a situation not helped by the fact that the text was littered with typos and grammatical errors, the most consistent of which was a seeming inability to correctly close sections of speech. To be fair I should state that my reading copy was clearly labelled “Proof” and these errors could have been remedied in the published version, but all that I’ve heard suggest not and the sheer volume of them is a cause for concern, even with a proof copy. I’ve also heard the suggestion that the thing with closing speech off incorrectly is ‘experimental’ but if so the point of this eludes me, unless it’s to demonstrate that proof readers are a necessary evil. Again, to be fair, irritating as they are, the errors don’t interfere with the sense of the book, but they do impart to the venture a veneer of amateurism and incompetence that sells short product, publisher and author.

Elsewhere, Charles’ prose is very rough and ready, with not much subtlety of expression, too much repetition and clichéd similes, and characters sounding the same (most evident in the sections where various figures give their back story). Of course it’s not meant to be subtle; this is a rip roaring adventure junket with no time for psychological insight or much place for fine writing, but even on those terms there is plenty of room for improvement, as I’m sure Garry Charles himself would be the first to concede. In parenthesis, I should admit that Garry is known personally to me. He’s passionate about the Horror genre and has a ferocious work ethic, but I can’t help wishing that he’d direct a bit more of his energy and enthusiasm into getting the little things right, those devilish details.

Plotwise Heaven’s Falling reads at times like a fusion of Steve Redwood’s Fisher of Devils and Edward Lee’s The City Infernal, the godlike beings of the former work transplanted to the environs of the latter, the conflicts of FoD rebooted and retold with a splatterpunk sensibility. Some of the details are a little up in the air, such as how and why beings with the power to create their own realities suddenly find themselves being wiped out by Houndsmen and similar but again, to be fair, this is the first volume in a diptych and much that seems opaque now could be made transparent in the pages of the sequel.

Charles is at great pains to humanise his lead characters. Lucy, despite her infernal nature, lustful appetites and penchant for ultra-violence, comes over at times as quite vulnerable and appealing. Sympathy for the Devil anyone? Similarly, first time we meet Damien he is intent on dismantling somebody for fun (though it’s later revealed this is of no more significance than the violence inflicted on cartoon characters), but as the story progresses a softer side to his nature is revealed, so that he is the ideal foil for Kain, boon companion and drinking buddy, the man (or demon) to have watching your back when the shit comes down. As to Virgil Kain himself, Charles portrays him as a diamond in the rough, a simple and uncomplicated everyman who’ll play fair by you if you do the same by him. His better qualities are emphasised, with his treatment of children and ability to empathise with them one shining example of how he has progressed as a moral being, regardless of which as soon as there’re heads to be cracked Kain reverts to type and a pulp quality intrudes, with the amorality and self belief of a Conan coming to the fore.

It’s in the action scenes that Heaven’s Falling comes into its own, and the action doesn’t let up for more than a moment with the author’s imagination in overdrive for most of the second half as he throws everything at us but the kitchen sink (and if he did throw it then you can bet it would have razor sharp edges, a man eating waste disposal unit and blood splattered all over the porcelain). The book is colourful and inventive, with a menagerie of hideous monsters and deformed mutants let loose upon the page, infernal interiors and lurid landscapes all delineated in hues of deepest scarlet, images to shock and appal, and lurking back of it all the hint of some over arching concept taking in heaven, hell and all things in-between. Mention in passing should be made of Paul Cox’s black and white illustrations which capture the story’s feel perfectly.

To summarise, Garry Charles’ ambition cannot be faulted. He has an enthralling story to tell and his vision is appealing, but it’s in the technical aspects of this writing game that he falls short of the ideal. There is more to winning a Grand Prix than simply putting your foot through the floor, and if he’s to realise his undoubted potential in full, then Charles needs to work, not harder, but better.

And there is evidence that he’s doing just that, has taken on board past criticism and addressed his shortcomings, for which he deserves credit. It will be interesting to see where his wayward talent takes him in future.

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