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Urban Gothic by Brian Keene
Review by Andrew Brooks
Leisure Books Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780843960907
Date: 28 July 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Brian Keene's Home Page / Show Official Info /

Brian Keene punches readers in the gut, repeatedly. Really, the guy writes scenes that will turn the strongest stomachs and describes horrors that may not fade once the book is closed. Those who've never read a novel by Keene have been warned. He tries, and mostly succeeds, to scare the living daylights out of you. With his latest, Urban Gothic, he again pulls no punches. This book is full of gore and torture and things that go splat in the night. It's a thrilling, yet disturbing, tour of that house in neighborhoods across America; the one thatís haunted or the site of a grisly murder or worse. The house in Urban Gothic is that worse one. The group only wishes it were haunted by the time things are said and done.

Set in Philadelphia, the book centers on a group of teenagers whose car breaks down in da hood. After mistaking a group of locals' intentions the teens flee into a decrepit Victorian house at the end of the block; terror and mayhem ensue. Within minutes of entering the house a monstrous half human/inbred giant dashes two of the teens' brains out while the others flee further into the house. Game, set, and match, for those lost and terrified (and sometimes horny at odd moments) teens! The remaining teenagers then spend the rest of this novel witnessing or becoming the victims of some horrendous and brutal stuff. The house is a death trap, of course, but I'll leave the details out for those who want to be surprised. Or horrified or what have you. Suffice to say, the house is built for the capture and murder of unsuspecting people and the kids don't have much of a chance. But some of the fun in every horror story is trying to guess who and how many will survive. Not much of a spoiler, but don't guess that high. It ain't pretty.

The story is one of horror-survival and, although there are a few somewhat cool what-the-hell-are-these-things moments, it's mostly just an escape or die trying type plot. That should detract nothing from Keeneís work but rather serves, I hope, to let the reader know there are few building moments of tension. Like the killers in the house, this book just comes after you. Which Iíll admit, left me a little disappointed. I like some dread with my gore, thank you please, and dread takes a little buildup. It deserves a little consideration and misdirection. You know, time to guess at whatís going to eat you before it does. But Keene doesnít spend much time on this, other than this or that characterís frantic thoughts while fleeing through the house, and Iím pretty sure thatís by design. Urban Gothic is a roller coaster ride through hell. I get what the book is supposed to be, but I was still disappointed in that respect.

A few minor gripes, and ones in which I know Keene can do better (I loved The Risen, so I know) are a few instances of weak dialogue and repeated imagery. I know the bad guys are brutishly dumb, but a particular characterís exchange with one of the teens was laughable. It may not be in the final print, but something along the lines of ďThatís my name, donít wear it outĒ is inexcusably lame. Again, Keene is capable of doing better. The other complaint involves two separate characters, recalling from their pasts, the noise a bursting watermelon makes and comparing it to the sound of exploding heads. This happens once and it is fine, but twice? It seems like a minor gripe, but it made me shake my head and pulled me out of a tense moment.

Urban Gothic, it bears repeating, is not for the squeamish. The things depicted in this book can be disturbing on many levels, and Keene does not let up. Ever. But itís decent fare for those who are fans of the genre and are willing to overlook a few instances of weak dialogue and watermelon-like heads exploding.

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