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“Extreme horror” isn’t a sub-genre I read much. I have no philosophical qualms about its validity as a genre, but in my limited experience, I’ve found that – like with splatterpunk and bizarro fiction  – the “extreme” in extreme horror is usually tastelessly gratuitous violence, degradation, and bloodshed pinned to a paper-thin plot whose only reason for existence is to, well, expose the reader to tastelessly gratuitous violence, degradation, and bloodshed. There’s no substance to it, and therefore, not interesting to me.

For that reason, I’m apt to avoid most of what’s labelled as “extreme horror.” However, when a writer I trust and adore writes a novel which seems to traffic in that genre, I’m more than willing to try it. For example, I absolutely loved Kin, by Kealan Patrick Burke. Maybe I’m a milquetoast, but that certainly fits into the extreme horror sub-genre for me, but it was an excellent read, quite simply, because Kealan Patrick Burke is an excellent writer. As you can imagine, when Bob Ford’s Burner came out, I held similar high expectations for a novel in a genre I don’t normally read.

Burner met those expectations and exceeded them. The reason for that, of course, is the driver behind the steering wheel of this insane roller coaster ride, Robert Ford. In some ways, the plot’s devastatingly simple: a young woman’s life and promising future is destroyed when her fiance is murdered in front of her and she’s kidnapped and sold into a meat market which lands her in the cage of a rich, respected businessman who’s secret kink is torturing young girls with blow-torches. Iris’ life becomes a patchwork quilt of pain, torture, survival, and humiliation. On the flip side, Audrey is exposed to the soul-shattering reality that, after her husband dies of a sudden stroke, the love of her life was never what she thought he was when she discovers his dark and terrible secrets and desires.

In lesser hands, this book could’ve been nothing more than brutal torture scene after torture scene, culminating in an orgy of bloody revenge. Like Gary Braunbeck in his heart-breaking Prodigal Blues, however, Ford transcends the extreme horror trope with a devastating two-part message about humanity.

First: Horrible, terrible things can happen to us – things we cannot be blamed for – which warp us and scar us for life, turning us into the very monsters who abused us in the first place. Even if Iris survives all of the torture heaped upon her…what will she survive to become? Second: We tell ourselves we’ll always do the right thing, no matter the cost, or how painful it might be. But – like Audrey, when confronted with the horrific truth of her husband’s secrets – when we actually have the chance to do the right thing, we’re more likely to give in to our fear and act out of self-interest instead. These two truths are far more horrific than any graphic scene of violence.

Highly recommended.

Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia

Author

Kevin Lucia’s short fiction has appeared in several anthologies, most recently with Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Bentley Little, Peter Straub and Robert McCammon.

His first short story collection, Things Slip Through was published November 2013, followed by Devourer of Souls in June 2014, Through A Mirror, Darkly, June 2015, and and his second short story collection, Things You Need, September 2018. His novella Mystery Road was published by Cemetery Dance Publications May, 2020.

For three free ebooks, sign up for his monthly newsletter at www.kevinlucia.blogspot.com.

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