Friday, May 15, 2009

CAGE OF NIGHT by Ed Gorman

Spence was an awkward kid who spent his teenage years reading comic books and watching horror movies. After high school he spent three years in the Army and when he returns—as the novel opens—he finds his hometown both different and the same. His little brother Josh turned into a star basketball player for the local high school team and blossomed into popularity, but he doesn’t feel any different. He lost his baby fat and his acne cleared up, but he still feels like an outsider.

Shortly after Spence returns home his brother talks him into attending a kegger and that’s where he meets Cindy Marie Brasher—an eighteen year-old homecoming queen who is dating the star quarterback at the high school. His name is David Myles and he and Spence take an instant dislike to each other. It doesn’t help that Spence and Cindy begin to see each other and quickly grow close.

Spence is smitten by Cindy. He doesn’t mind that she spent time in a mental hospital, or even that she claims to hear a voice from an old well. She is beautiful, tender and vulnerable. Their relationship is quick and it is everything Spence could imagine; then things start to happen. David guns down a woman in a grocery store for no apparent reason and an old high school friend, who is now a police officer, begins to follow and intimidate Spence. Then everything gets much worse when an old woman is brutally murdered and Spence is the suspect.

It all centers around Cindy and the voice from the old well, a voice that Spence can’t hear, but that Cindy and the others can.

Cage of Night is a novel that is difficult to explain and describe. It doesn’t fit nicely into a category—it is horror, crime, fantasy and suspense rolled into one neat package, but yet not quite. It is different. The story is told in a deceptively simple style. There is not a word wasted, but the sub-text is complex and uncertain. The characters are deep and complicated without any over handed self-evaluation and the small town setting has a 1950s atmosphere playing against a 1990s culture.

The plot is seamless and stunning. Mr Gorman never does the expected—there are several twists that surprise—but the novels true power is its ambiguous, complex and dark voice. It is a working class voice that beats, “be careful what you wish for.” It is the type of story that can be read again and again and the reader will continue to find new elements and meaning in its complex simplicity.

Cage of Night is a masterpiece. It is dedicated to Robert Bloch and you will see more than a few similarities between the work of Bloch, particularly Psycho, and Cage of Night. The similarities: the rough and real characters, the stark style, and the mastery of successfully straddling multiple genres. This similarity ends there however, because as much as it owes to the work of Robert Bloch, it is wholly that of Ed Gorman.

Cage of Night is an extension of Ed Gorman’s successful 1995 short story “The Brasher Girl”—it is successful as both a short story and a novel. The novel was originally published in 1996. It is currently available in a very nice limited edition hardcover from PS Publishing. The PS edition has an insightful introduction by Stephen Gallagher and it is very much worth seeking out.


RickyGrove said...

I've always enjoyed Ed Gorman's writing. This novel sounds marvelous. Excellent review. I'll be buying this book very soon. Thanks!

RickyGrove said...

PS The limited edition you are reviewing is pretty cool, but for those on a budget there's an op paperback from White Wolf on cheap.

Rabid Fox said...

I've only read one novel by Mr. Gorman and it just didn't resonate with me for some reason. Rituals was an okay story, but I have a feeling it's not emblamatic of his best work. This novel you've reviewed here, however, sounds much more promising.