Deadlight Jack by Mark Onspaugh
Deadlight Jack is apparently the second book to have starred the characters of Jimmy Kalmaku and George Watters (first appearing in The Faceless One) but, and I do speak from experience, you don’t need to have read the first book in order to enjoy this one – although given how much I enjoyed this one I wouldn’t mind a revisit to check out Jimmy and George’s earlier exploits.
The blurb tells us that ‘Worse things than gators lurk in the Louisiana swamp. . . . ‘ and ‘Appearances can be deceiving.’ and that is definitely the case here in both respects. Certainly worse things creep around in those swamps if this story is anything to go by and if the appearance of two elderly fellas coming in to form the rescue party seems unlikely well this book is here to dispel that notion.
Jimmy Kalmaku is actually a Tlingit shaman with a link to the god Raven and George Watters also has a link to the world of the supernatural. A link that will revoke childhood memories long since locked away in the darkest recesses of George’s mind.
At the start of the book we jump back in time to a young boy living in the swamp and a tale of a creature that lurks in the Bayou. Deadlight Jack, or Professor Foxfire as he is also known, is a creature of the swamps. Feared, for good reason. Put bluntly, if you see his face it’s probably the last thing you will ever see. Completely twisted and evil he really is quite a wonderfully nasty character that adds a decadent flare with his strange attire and ghostly followers. Anyway, I’m ahead of myself. Basically we begin the story with a look back in time to a particularly creepy tale that clearly makes up a part of George’s childhood. A time so scary that his family up sticks and left their home for good and George, as a defence mechanism, buried the memory deep within. Now, jump forward in time to our pair of friends. Witness them as they share harmless banter with each other about which ‘girl’ they’re going to ask to dance at the next social – or just as they plain call each other names. It’s a good, if brief, snapshot of the lives they lead. Sure they’re getting on and they have the aches and pains to prove it but they have few worries or concerns and life is generally good. That is until George’s nephew goes missing during a family camping trip to the Louisiana bayou. Of course George and Jimmy rally to the cause but their help isn’t necessarily quite as welcome with some of George’s family members as you would expect. There’s a family history here and fraught times have a way of dragging up long past memories.
So, what did I enjoy about this. Well, it’s very entertaining. There isn’t too much by way of explanation for what’s actually going on but I don’t think that really matters. What Onspaugh has created is a fast paced story full of creepiness and horror. We delve into the swamps and get tangled and lost in their enormous depths. The whole setting, in fact, is really wonderfully done. Obviously this particular setting really lends itself to the horror genre and the author makes full use of all aspects bringing a quite decidedly gothic feel to the story.
The main characters – well, I really liked them and the reason I know this is because I felt scared when they were heading into the swamp. Perhaps it’s just that some of the scenes had a grim reality/finality to them that made me fear the worst but I did feel for these two. I also think that the two main characters are really well drawn. They both have their own whims, they can be a bit cantankerous every now and again and they’re not going to go rushing around the swamps kicking the butt of everything that moves! (I do so appreciate a bit of reality smack bang in the middle of my gothic horror after all!) Seriously though, I appreciate that these characters are powerful in their own right but this doesn’t make them invincible and wandering around a swamp is just as likely to inflame a bunch of their creaking joints as anything else. I also think the author managed to achieve a really good balance providing us with just enough family history to shine a light on things from the past without slowing down the plot. He gives the characters substance but not with any heavy information dumps that slow down the read and in fact allows you to figure things out a little yourself as you read along.
On the whole I really enjoyed this and would definitely pick up future books with these two characters. An entertaining read with a dash of humour and a good deal of creepy.
I received a copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.