Mulholland Books, 2011
Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, and Stephen Romano
Black Light by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, and Stephen Romano (hereafter the Writers) is a gritty and over-the-top tale of supernatural noir. The Writers are the same guys who brought us the Saw franchise but (if you’re like me) don’t let that influence your decision to give Black Light a shot. Black Light is the story of Buck Carlsbad a private investigator with the gift of being able to see the dead and absorb them for later disposal. His gift comes with the side effect of being able to see the titular black light; the dead world around us. Orphaned at a young age Buck is haunted by the fate of his parents who disappeared into a dangerous triangle of black light activity. A triangle that a entrepreneur plans on building a super-speed railway straight through.
The first thing readers of Black Light will likely notice is the over-the-top language the Writers use to infuse the novel with noir sensibility. It reminded sometimes of the first Max Payne video game though never quite as overblown (“Collecting evidence had gotten old a few hundred bullets back. I was already so far past the point-of-no-return I couldn’t remember what it had looked like when I had passed it.” -Max Payne). Still though lines like: “The woman is cringing in a far corner, near the fireplace, crying as she watches my body quake and rumble, my eyes jacked open, infused with the dull red glow of a madman’s cancer.” and “The urn sits on the bar in front of Tom, and I can almost see my face reflected in the silver surface. Almost, but not quite. Some kind of poetry in that, I guess.” are by and large the norm and work well if you don’t take them too seriously.
There is some lengthy exposition at the start of the novel as you are introduced to Buck and given some brief insight into his past and personality. This is by far the most difficult section of the novel, interesting for its inventiveness but not particularly polished in its execution. It is in this early section that readers are introduced to the mystery surrounding Buck’s family and are Buck’s early exploration of that mystery are relayed primarily through flashbacks. You get the sense that there is a whole other story that could have been relayed had the Writers decided to and there is at least a whole (or several) novel’s worth of content buried in those flashbacks. The first hundred pages or so really play second fiddle to the remainder of the novel and then part of the novel that takes place on the bullet train, and after, are some exciting, tense and generally top notch scenes that are definitely worth waiting for.
Are the characters believable or realistic? No, not really. Many are caricatures: the pop-star diva, the charismatic politician, the pushy news anchor, the overly authoritative and slightly disturbed Homeland Security officer, the washed up veteran, etc. Some have unique twists like the pop-star who is actually talented and who has a touch of the gift shared by Buck but by and large the presence of these other characters seems only to serve as an impediment to Buck’s quest to solve the mystery behind his parents disappearance. It’s not a bad thing in most cases and the books laser like focus on Buck is far more of an advantage then a detriment.
Black Light isn’t a perfect novel but is a fun, whirlwind of a novel. With an inventive world and a unique flair for over-the-top description Black Light is one of the most original novels that I’ve read in quite some time. Audible and Hachette’s production narrated by Peter Ganim brings a liveliness to this narrative and provides a near perfect voice for just the type of fiction. Readers and listeners looking for something quick, exciting, full of dark deeps and high action should look no further than Black Light. Hopefully we’ll be seeing some more of Buck Carlsbad in the future.