[Book Review] Marcus Dunstan and Stephen Romano’s ‘Black Light’

Now in stores from Mulholland Books from Marcus Dunstan (writer of Feast 1-III, Saw 4-7, Piranha 3DD and director of The Collector) and Stephen Romano (“Shock Festival”) is “Black Light“, a new horror novella reviews by Ryan Daley.

Buck’s got a way with spirits that no one else can match. He was normal, once. Until Something Horrible killed his parents and left him for dead.

Buck has spent years using his gift to trace his family. It’s his only hope of finding out what happened to them-and what made him the way he is.

Now the voices say that something big is coming. Buck already knows what it is-a super high-tech bullet train running express across a stretch of unforgiving desert known for the most deadly paranormal events in history. A place where Buck almost died a few years ago, and where he swore he would never return.

But as the train prepares to rumble down the tracks, Buck knows it can only be the inevitable hand of fate pulling him back to the most harrowing unfinished case of his career at four hundred miles per hour.

Read Daley’s thoughts on the book inside and pick it up at retailers everywhere.Is it easier for a novelist to become a screenwriter than it is for a screenwriter to become a novelist? I’m not sure, but the success of novelist-turned-screenwriters like David Benioff (Novel: 25th Hour; Screenplay: Game of Thrones) or Alex Garland (Novel: The Beach; Screenplay: 28 Days Later) seems to indicate that established novelists have an easier time making the transition. But Saw screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (parts IV through VII) do their best to break the mold with Black Light, a well-paced and highly imaginative supernatural thriller, penned with co-writer Stephen Romano. It’s a novel steeped in rich, vivid descriptions––more than a reader could hope to expect from a dialogue-obsessed screenwriters––but the excessive number of peripheral characters makes for a sometimes confusing read.

Buck Carlsbad is a medium on a mission: to ingest evil spirits and put them to rest. Once he discovers an evil spirit, he gulps it down, stores it in his gut for a while, and then regurgitates it into a silver urn, which can be subsequently buried in a graveyard, or burial ground, or what have you. Sometimes he’s forced to carry a spirit for a day or two before finding a release vessel, and carrying around an evil spirit in your belly is apparently hard on interpersonal relationships.

Buck never really knew his parents, only that they were killed somewhere in the Black Triangle, a patch of haunted land in Nevada where a bunch of bad-ass prisoners were executed. When a load of rich dudes decide to run a super train through the Black Triangle, they hire Buck to accompany them on its maiden voyage, to thwart the attacks of any evil spirits that might want to board without the captain’s permission. Buck is into the paid soul eating and everything, but his primary motive is to find out what the fuck happened to his parents. Frankly, he’s not a complex man.

The authors take an earnest approach to the nutty plot, and while the summary may sound like a cheesy TV-movie (Buck Carlsbad: Lonely Soul Eater, perhaps), the novel is written in the confident first-person voice of a hardboiled, pre-war private investigator. Buck is a ghost hunter straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel. I was amazed that three different authors could produce such a singular narrative perspective.

But while the novel can be an action-packed blast, particularly in the latter half, the authors introduce far too many fringe players to the cast list, most of questionable relevancy. There are dozens of named characters in Black Light, from Buck’s support crew, to the handful of bigwigs riding the super train, to the security agents (from varying agencies) who are there to protect them. The first third of the novel is spent introducing all of these characters and the super train/Black Triangle set-up, and the authors seem to hope all of their dangling character sketches will pay off once the action kicks into gear. But the disparate character arcs don’t converge in a way that’s coherent or satisfying; they’re simply tossed into the climax like so much fodder. Black Light moves fast enough to obscure its more prominent weaknesses, but it would be a stronger novel if the authors had culled the expansive herd of supporting characters.

3.5/5 Skulls