I always like to get the formalities out of the way first. Stuart is one of my editing team at Dark Chapter Press. I struck up a friendship with him as a fellow horror writer while social networking. I’d imagine over time we’re going to sink plenty of beers together. We’ve appeared in a couple of anthologies together too. But that’s me as a writer, and me as a friend. This review is written by me as a reader, a consumer of something that I purchased. The review is my honest opinion, nothing more, nothing less.
Cine takes place in the town of Lake Whisper, a place of Stuart’s own creation, that he features in several of his stories. This is actually the first Lake Whisper story I’ve read.
The book certainly contains more of the extreme end of Stuart’s range, and extreme horror fiction isn’t always my bag. I knew to expect that going in, though and the gore is balanced with a plot. The story focuses on a group of teenagers in Whispers, some of them good and some of them just plain evil. I occasionally found myself floundering a little between who was the sister of whom and who was the boyfriend of which one, as we cut between the good kids, the bad kids, and then some other kids of about the same age who work at the cinema. I just sort of relaxed into it and let the story take us all along and as, inevitably, the numbers thinned, the cast became more focused and I could get into them a bit more.
Stuart must have worked in a cinema as a teenager, by the way. There’s a lot of insight into the inner workings of a multiplex here that I can only imagine come from being a disgruntled teenager, who thought working in a cinema would be the best job ever… only to find that it’s actually a bit shit.
There is another little ‘career choice’ in here that really piqued my interest. A protection racket posing as a ‘secret shopper’ organisation. When you see how this works in the story… well, I just thought it was fantastic. I do have a fondness for gangster movies and documentaries, so this wedge of the story really entertained me.
The brutality in the book grows to an incredible crescendo – a montage of violence and depravity that has been creeping ever closer as the bad guys lined up every piece across the narrative. When it plays out, you’re prepared for it to a certain extent – you know something like this is coming – and then Stuart changes gear, bombarding your mind’s eye with destruction and terror so hideous, you’d be forgiven for wincing at some of it. There was one particular death in this sequence that actually made me consider putting the story down, it struck such a nerve with me. But like the cinema-goers of Whispers Cinema, I couldn’t turn away, I had to see what would happen next.
As usual, we’re treated to Stuart’s confident, unwavering writing style. That he is an excellent writer is beyond doubt, but I have to admit to enjoying the content of stories such as Charlotte and The Customer Is Always… more than I enjoyed Cine. But that’s perhaps the point, isn’t it, to put you beyond comfort? And it certainly reinforces Stuart’s ability as a writer – he aims to make you feel something… well, mission accomplished. This type of story is written very much without everyone in mind. You can either enjoy this, or not, but he will excite feelings in you as you read and you will either be repulsed, and come away with perhaps a negative view, or it’ll hit all the right notes for you and you’ll be shouting about Cine from the rooftops, or perhaps like me, you’ll dissect the story into it components and find balance in what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy.
So, if you’re not into extreme horror, definitely avoid this one, but if you do enjoy a really brutal piece of fiction, you’re gonna love this!
4 outta 5 – Not my favourite Stuart Keane story. Well written, very effective – shocking and brutal.