BRIDE OF THE REAPER - Charles Romalotti (Layman Books, 216 pages)
It’s been an interminable seven year wait between The Stickler (the third book in the Pariah trilogy) and the latest set of new prose from Romalotti that is Bride Of The Reaper. Romalotti is the man who wrote Salad Days, a book that is still, arguably, the best slice of Punk Rock fiction to date. Since that book, the author has carved out a notch for himself in the world of horror via the three-part Pariah, and now reaffirms that position with Bride Of The Reaper.
The premise of Bride Of The Reaper is, essentially, a simple haunted house yarn. Thing is, Romalotti doesn’t really do simple. The haunted house itself has a brutal history of rape and murder that dates back to the American Civil War. The current resident of the house has gone missing, so his son has let the house out to two young Punk Rock girls who, initially at least, don’t get on. One of the pair, Kitty Waugh, has just landed a TV job introducing a new late-night horror-film TV show. The other, Token Valhalla, is a budding artist with an acute eye for the macabre.
The story follows the pair, through highs and lows, as Kitty’s TV show becomes a rapid success. Running in tandem with the success story is a rather nasty and unsettling undercurrent, pivoting around sinister, hand-written notes that randomly appear in the house, along with the disappearance of Kitty’s cat. The house continually offers surprises in the form of hidden passage ways and secretive crawlspaces.
One of the great strengths Romalotti has always had is in his character development. By the end of the book the characters have literally taken on a life of their own. The reader realises that for all of the seductive Gothic confidence Kitty exudes, she actually has a surprisingly frail insecurity about her while possessing the ability appraise someone in a calculated and accurate manner. Token meanwhile grows from a bullish, arrogant and nihilistic ogre into a genuinely caring and deep person.
The other main characters in the book - TV show producer Vicky Carver and technical director Rino Calvacanti, Kitty’s co-star Randall Crawford, landlord Ken Blevins, and Devin, member of the band, The Puppet Dictators - all display different personalities and are all equally convincing. There are even a few characters from Salad Days that crop up in the background story - a very accurate portrayal of US Punk and Hardcore in the mid-80s.
The plot is gripping throughout, twisting and turning, drawing spectacular characters into situations that possess the clarity of biographical writing rather than fiction. As for the end? If you can see it coming you’ve either cheated, read the end first, read a spoiler in a review or you ARE Romalotti!
Another strength of Romalotti, and specifically this book, is the dynamic of reality. So often in horror we read of the vampires... or the werewolves... the aliens... Not so here. The horror present in Bride Of The Reaper is graphically, frighteningly real.
Everything in this book is incredibly well visualised and drips with authenticity and that realism, when placed in the hands of such a descriptive and visionary author as Romalotti, is where the real blood-chilling, stomach-knotting terror lies. (13.12.10)