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Sunday, May 18, 2014

DARK FATHER by James Cooper -- a review

Dark Father by James Cooper -- a review by Gary Fry

For me, novels are a bit like football matches. I consume plenty, and on the whole they're entertaining, with the occasional stinker along the way. But once in a while a real classic comes along, and that's what keeps me watching/reading. It's like the variable reinforcement of gambling, and it's worth ploughing through the merely good to get to the likes of, say, Germany/England 2001, or Stephen King's Misery.
 
This is all a clumsy way of saying that I recently read a book that I consider (to mix metaphors) one of those treasures, those jewels. I'm referring to James Cooper's Dark Father, a novel about to be released by US outfit DarkFuse. Now, I know James personally, have shared beer and curry with him, and I guess that might make some think I lack objectivity in this review. But believe me, simply reading the novel will quickly dispel any such concerns. It grips from the get-go and doesn't let up.
 
It's essentially three stories running in parallel, and your task as the reader is a) to piece them together; and b) to endure their savage episodes. The book is certainly dark, often brutal, and yet golden-threaded by an earnest line in characterisation. The characters are tender, bruised, realistic. The common theme of each tale is abusive men, with the women and children in their lives fighting for survival. It's so grippingly near the knuckle, the book remains clamped in your hands.
 
I needn't go into the plot, the three story strands. I think that's a boring way of reviewing a book. All I will say is that it's more than compelling trying to figure out how these narratives come together at the end. Meanwhile, you'll be hooked by great set-pieces, including a torture scene in a stable, a recurrent psychiatric transcript, a kidnapping, a deeply troubling extended sequence involving red paint, and much more. This is truly dig-beneath-the-bone disturbing; it gave me a feeling similar to Michael Haneke's Funny Games (without the postmodern tricks). At one point, I felt as if every character couldn't be trusted, a paranoiac and punishing effect.
 
In short, I loved this very real and personal book. It does what the best dark fiction should do: conjure terror from plausible episodes, from characterisation that rings true. That's harder to achieve than many might appreciate, but there's no danger here -- or rather, plenty of the stuff. Once you start, I'm convinced that you won't end until James did. A great, great book.
 
UK readers: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Father-James-Cooper-ebook/dp/B00IRJ0PM4
 
US readers: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Father-James-Cooper-ebook/dp/B00IRJ0PM4

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