When I cracked the cover of Gary Braunbeck's "In Silent Graves" and read roughly the first 100 pages, my blood ran as cold as ice. Not from the increasing sense of doom and gloom, although there is plenty of that going on initially, but from the disturbingly eerie resemblence between the opening chapters of this book and the novels of horror author Tom Piccirilli. If you've read Piccirilli's books, you know what I'm talking about. He's the guy who takes an interesting idea and derails it by burdening the plot with over the top surrealism. I've read two of Piccirilli's horror books, "The Night Class" and "The Deceased," and felt as though I'd stepped into a world created by a crazed Salvador Dali. These two books made no sense whatsoever yet fans around the world lauded them as the best new thing in horror. I feared Gary Braunbeck's book was going to be a retread of Piccirilli's style. How wrong I was! Stick with "In Silent Graves" even if you feel as though you will never understand what is going on. By the time the book wraps up, not only will you completely comprehend every aspect of the narrative, you'll realize this book is one of the best novels you've read in ages. I can't believe I haven't heard of this guy before now.
"In Silent Graves" tells the unique story of one Robert Londrigan, a local television news reporter in a town called Cedar Hill. Robert and his wife Denise are happily expecting the birth of their first child, a birth that, if everything goes well, will be their first after several disappointing attempts. Unfortunately, the Londrigans get into a nasty fray on Halloween night that results in Robert storming out of the house in a huff. Too mad to return home right away, Londrigan strolls down to the local park where he soon undergoes a most curious experience. He runs into an enigmatic figure, a quite horrific one actually, and one that changes forever his conceptions of reality and humanity as he knows it. When he finally returns home, Denise is collapsed on the bedroom floor, an ambulance arrives, and Robert soon learns that he must face the prospect of a bitter and lonely life. Or will he? It turns out that Londrigan must experience the deepest depths of despair and tragedy before hope and redemption will allow him to bask in the light of eternal love. For once, and this is a big deal considering how I love to write lengthy, in depth reviews, I refuse to give away further plot details. The story is simply too good to risk ruining it for others.
I will say that Braunbeck takes a fairy tale story everyone has heard about at some point in their childhood yet reworks it in a way you could never imagine. "In Silent Graves" toys with the idea of reality, time, and space in exciting ways; it calls into question memory and indicts the human race for its treatment of children. The children especially form a central part of the story of Robert Londrigan, who must learn to understand the true meaning of despair if he is to ever escape the torment his life has become since the demise of his wife. If Robert can do this, if he can succeed in attaining a higher level of understanding, what is ugly and tragic will become beautiful and sublime. It's a big task for one man, but fortunately he has some powerful allies on his side pulling for him to make it. The fate of tens of thousands rests on him doing so.
Braunbeck's realizes his vision largely due to his fetching prose style, which eschews verbosity in favor of concisely language imbued with heartfelt emotion. I can't remember the last time I read a book categorized as a horror novel that brought tears to my eyes. Yes, "In Silent Graves" brought a mist to my eyes not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions. It's not the gore or violence that caused me to choke up, but rather the lengthy passages on how humanity abandons its children to the mindless cruelty of this mortal coil. Of course, if all Braunbeck could do is write emotionally charged paragraphs, he wouldn't be all that different from many other writers. Thankfully, the author's imagination is as good as his writing abilities. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started this book, but am I glad I decided to read it. I don't know how the mechanics involved in awarding the Bram Stoker prize for best novel in the horror genre works, but Gary Braunbeck should certainly win one for this novel if there is any justice in the world.
Horror author Michael Marano wrote a most enlightening introduction for "In Silent Graves" that in and of itself is worth reading. He laments the decline of publishing houses willing to take a chance on books that set up camp outside the paint by number formulas so readily accepted by the masses today. It's a quite amusing introduction-he calls one mystery book he read "retina-scrapingly bad"-that paints an ugly picture of what passes for literature today. Gary Braunbeck's book stands in stark opposition to these formulaic atrocities; his is a work that will stay with me long after I return the book to the library. Speaking of which, I'm angry I checked this out instead of buying a copy because I should have supported the author with my dollars. I've rambled long enough. What you need to do is get out there and pick this one up immediately. You won't be disappointed.