Gary A. Braunbeck
Paperback, $7.99 (review based on advance reading copy)
Review by Sheila Merritt
“As the sun perched on the horizon like a vulture examining a field of fresh carrion,” is a striking simile. It is also an example of multi-Bram Stoker (and other) awards recipient Gary A. Braunbeck’s eerie ease with words. In Coffin County, he creates a universe whose denizens deal with disaster, dread, and distress. Within the town of Cedar Hill, Ohio, “where the corners of the finite and infinite don’t quite come together as they should,” is the slum district called Coffin County. “Coffin County is where the spirit would have to rally in order to reach hopeless. It is a place where the odd and the damaged, the despondent and the discarded, the lost and the shabby come when they reach the end of their rope and life offers no alternative but to crawl into the shadows of poverty and just give up.” This tone of despair permeates a novel which reflects upon the seeming randomness of rampage, the catastrophic characteristics of chaos, and the inevitability of evil.
Evil has erupted in Cedar Hill for centuries. The town is a vortex for violence, “where the scrim separating this reality from whatever waits on the other side becomes all the more weaker.” When a slaughtering spree spawns seemingly supernatural situations, law enforcement officials try to exercise rational thought. They are hampered, however, by evidence which defies reason: “Every set of fingerprints identifies one of the victims as either a dead mass murderer or a dead serial killer.”
Chaos theory, “the butterfly effect,” and Judas Iscariot all play roles in what is happening. It is not necessary, however, to be a physicist, philosopher, or Biblical scholar to enjoy this book. Having some knowledge of concepts and characters discussed in it does enhance the pleasure of reading it. Going to Wikipedia for crash courses certainly increased this reviewer’s appreciation!
The volume includes two bonus stories, also set in Cedar Hill. In these stories, and especially the novel, the author tackles difficult plotting, and writes beautiful, poetic passages. He is also adept at characterization; creating a comprehension of those who may not possess redeeming qualities, and reaffirming, through deft description, the likeability of others.
Coffin County has many likeable characters, and many of them die. This is brave of Braunbeck; in the novel, nothing is predictable, anything is possible: Rather like chaos theory.