Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Black Light

by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Stephen Romano


Black Light was created by three screenwriters, and its big screen influences show. Buck Carlsbad is a made-in-Tinseltown version of Thomas Usher, a private eye and exorcist with a gift for seeing the world of the dead. He's preoccupied with searching for his origins, since he knows little about his parents and he can't even remember his early childhood.

Now Buck is in his late thirties you would have thought he'd be past the stage of obsessing about his early years. But he can't relate to other people, as though having one foot in the next world makes it hard to belong in this one, so he feels haunted by his own strangeness. When he gets offered a job on a high-tech bullet train which just happens to run through an occult hot zone in the desert he knows he should turn away. He knows he's likely to encounter more spirits than he can handle, and it could be the death of him. But he's desperate to learn the truth about himself, and the power of the blacklight is an addictive lure.

Running from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, the Jaeger Laser is the fastest, shiniest and swankiest of trains. Rock stars, would-be presidents, TV personalities and the very wealthy attend its launch. Then they all pile in for the first trip, which is obviously a disaster waiting to happen at high speed in an enclosed space. With evil ghosts. The train swarms with burly security guards, but far from making everything seem safe they only seem to add to the sense of impending threat. Buck and his friends look like a bunch of feckless eccentrics next to them. One of his friends is Roosevelt, a young stoner and a medium with a talent for computers, there to provide technical support. Then there's Tom, an older colleague in the same line of work as Buck.

This story is full of extreme characters, whether they're overly macho guys or excessively oily politicians or absurdly private billionaires. Quite a few of these minor characters verge on caricatures. But it's the depiction of women that irked me the most. They're all universally hot, as though the Californian Ugly Tax has exiled anyone less than a 9, and they're all one-dimensional. There's reporter Barbie, kick-ass Barbie who fights in stilettos, neglected homemaker Barbie, psychic rock star Barbie... These women don't interact with each other in any meaningful way, and they seem only to exist as foils for the macho action men or as objects of lust.

The ghostly manifestations are unusual however. There are different types of spirit, ordinary ghosts that tend to be very malevolent, and Walkers who straddle the gulf between ghosts and people and who haunt an individual. When Buck uses his powers to absorb malevolent ghosts before disposing of them in silver urns his hair turns whiter and he loses months or years from his life expectancy. With imagery of him throwing up and cutting his arms as part of the process, the implications are clear.

Once the train gets rolling the pace accelerates until the story is one horrific frenzy of madness, violence and chaos. The non-stop action had me gripped due to its sheer, gut-wrenching bloodiness, yet it didn't have me intrigued. It simply seemed to be too unrelenting, and too black and white. The story builds up to a climax of explosions and raining bullets, and the revelations of the last few pages have their impact drowned out by all of this violence. There are logical flaws as well: ghosts are supposed to rise from the spirits of people who did terrible things, so I found it odd that more of them didn't rise during a story with such a high body count. And how come one character can use a power over dead matter to heal living tissue?

Black Light has good points: the main character may be over-macho but he's also likeable, the plot is furious and the horror is creative and effective. However it seems rushed in the details and I would have liked some of the characters to be better fleshed out in order to add depth to this tale of obsession and temptation.

17th October 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson