Saturday, June 18, 2011

Army of Dead Babies


The Revelation by Bentley Little (1989): I don't think dead babies have ever played such a prominent role in a horror novel before or since The Revelation. The book is literally crawling with them. Malevolent, mobile dead babies are Hell's shock troops in this novel, working to secure the release of an ancient evil from an ancient cemetery on the outskirts of a small Arizona town. Only a mysterious preacher and a handful of residents can stop something from doing something awful.

This is Bentley Little's first novel, and one can see why it helped propel him onto horror's A-list. He's probably the most Kingian of all post-Stephen King horror writers, with sensibilities pushed just a little further into the weird. And he came onto the scene when King had stopped writing supernatural horror for a few years. Good timing, that. Little's prose is clear and straightforward, and he never uses a description when a brand name will do, two other Kingian traits.

The Revelation won the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers of America for best first horror novel. There's something a bit programmatic about this effort, but it's an assured first novel regardless. It started life as a creative writing dissertation, and there are times when it seems like a thesis on the commercial America horror novel. Unlikely fellowship of heroes brought together by an invading supernatural evil? Ancient yet sarcastic evil? Site of power within which that evil must be contained? Check on all.

A kitten gets purchased by a protagonist and then horribly killed in such short order that it seems almost like a parody of the horror and suspense genre's creakiest tropes. It's a horror novel with dead babies, so there's an obligatory scene involving a pregnant woman in peril. Little would get less derivative as his career progressed, but he already shows a deft hand here at relentless plotting and the sort of sympathetic, short-hand characterization that can make one care about even the shortest-lived cannon fodder. Not a great novel, but an enjoyable one. Recommended.

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