| 27 September 2009 | Samuel
‘Crime with a difference’ would perhaps be an appropriate genre classification for D.B. Shan’s second adult novel, Hell’s Horizon. What begins as a fairly standard (albeit noirish) whodunnit soon evolves into a strange beast of a book, suspended somewhere between crime, horror and fantasy. Like its predecessor, Procession of the Dead, it drops only subtle hints at first of its own supernatural undercurrents, preferring to focus on sketching the bleak and bloodstained setting on which the action thrives. When the magic does hit, it can seem a little incongruous, but it certainly transforms this witches’ brew into something intriguingly unique. The prequel is a must-read before attempting this latest instalment; anybody unfamiliar with the mechanics of Ayuamarcans will probably be left scratching their head and wanting their money back.Shan’s writing is as brutal as it is atmospheric. He offers little relief from the violence of his story, focusing as usual on the decay of his protagonist. The scene with the Fursts – a particularly memorable moment – is delivered so swiftly that it takes several pages to fully sink in, at which point the reader cannot help but feel slightly sick. Bleak though it may be, it is an undeniably skilful blow. I certainly found myself glancing behind my chair a few times while reading at night; I’ll give Shan credit for that.Nevertheless, like its predecessor, this book does suffer somewhat from being difficult to endure. Nobody will guess all of Shan’s plot twists, and that may be partly because his plot is wildly unpredictable – but it will also be partly because his readers are too benumbed to make any reasonable attempts. This instalment falls a step short of Procession in the engrossing, page-turning department, and the slower-paced moments leave plenty of time for noticing that the prose is not the best in the world. To make matters worse, Shan has arguably overstepped the mark when it comes to his most intriguing characters – The Cardinal and Paucar Wami – neatly shattering the reverent atmospheres that previously made them such powerful narrative lures.At the very least, Hell’s Horizon is an exceptionally plotted whodunnit. The twists and turns are breathtakingly complex. But how to become desensitised to the violence without becoming desensitised to the whole lot? That’s a question for a hardier reader than myself
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