It was, however, the horror genre where he truly differentiated his work—he wrote with a keen eye towards culture and mythology. He was an observer and chronicler as much as anything. And he still is.
His work has changed and expanded over the years; from his early pulp-style crime novels, to his horror, to his more recent suspense, and finally to his current batch of hybrid suspense / supernatural novels. No matter where Mr Farris’ work is categorized you can always count on three things: wit, suspense, and more than a touch of humanity.
I recently read a John Farris’ novel titled Dragonfly. It was published in 1995. It is a large-scale suspense novel with a booming plot, flashy and developed characters, and enough twists to make its 500 pages pass far too quickly. It is a version of the Dean Koontz thriller, except where Koontz tends to populate his novels with working class characters Dragonfly is a hothouse of Southern aristocracy in all its contemptible glory.
Dr Joe Bryce is a conman. He makes his living swindling wealthy women of their treasure. His last job had a few loose ends and it didn’t turn out exactly how Joe had hoped. He has a mind to retire, but the dust jacket photograph of a beautiful and bestselling author haunts him until he decides for one more con. The only problem: Nothing is as he expects it.
The plot is so well rendered and designed that the less a reader knows about it, the more enjoyable it will be. The writing is pure in subtle and unobtrusive tones—it is deceivingly simple with a Southern, almost gothic, lilt:
“Joe awoke at the crack of dawn in the beach house, disoriented after a night of heavy sleep, wondering for a few moments just where he was and what he was up to.”
The characters are full-bodied, living, breathing people. Joe is a scoundrel that is not only likable, but, as the novel gains ground, begins a trembling, sorrowful journey of redemption. He is a flawed man in a flawed and harsh world. The setting is beautifully captured by Mr Farris in a muted eloquence—simple and direct with language that is permeated with intelligence and wit.
Dragonfly is one of the best novels I have read in 2009. It is a sound piece of literature with a muscular plot and a humanity that is startling. It is a true masterpiece of suspense. It may remind me of the Dean Koontz thriller, but Dragonfly is all John Farris.