There has been a bit of buzz among readers and our own staff about the first issue of Redlands landing this week, so I had to add it to my reading stack of new releases, and I’m glad I did. Opening in the titular Redlands, in Florida of 1977, the first page makes quite an impression, a single, full-page image of a burning tree, complete with nooses dangling from it, the fiery glow illuminating the nearby police station. Of course the mere fact this is the South, coupled with the striking imagery of the tree and nooses (even before it is set afire) brings various unpleasant connotations to mind right away.
And those thoughts prove to be sadly correct – the sherrif and his men are bigoted, racist creeps, the sort who enjoy having the power over others that their badge of office confers, the sort who use and abuse the law rather than uphold it. Especially the sherrif, a large, brutal man who is just as likely to turn his violence on his own son and deputy if he questions him, as he is anyone he actually dislikes. Small-minded hatred rolls off this man in waves, and with the eerie copper glow of the burning tree casting its light over the scene, the lighting gives this human man a demonic tint, the firelight making his skin look reddish, his eyes glowing orange as they reflect the flames.
It’s a nice, subtle touch, and it makes the sherrif look like more of a monster than the creatures that are now laying siege to his police station. The same people – women – he tried to hang from the now-flaming tree in that traditional lynching method so beloved by certain types of evolutionary throwbacks. But as I already mentioned, those nooses are swinging empty in the breeze kicked up by the hot air of the fire. The women have vanished and he doesn’t know where. Now the bully-boy bigot is scared, he’s not the one in charge, he’s not the one who has all the power,he’s the one at the mercy of someone – perhaps something – else, and he’s done little to earn any mercy…
This is a compelling read for horror fans, taking the brutality of racist law enforcement (sadly not confined just to the 1977 setting of this story, as we’ve seen all too often in the news) and the police department and small town under siege by something unnatural, like a combination of 30 Days of Night and Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, layered with some rural Southern Gothic. Del Rey’s art suits the creepy, menacing atmosphere well, the slow build up of tension, the sudden, bloody violence and horror; to my eye there was something there that reminded me of the excellent Ben Templesmith (that’s a big compliment, by the way), and there is very fine use of dark shadows and colour to emphasise the atmosphere of creeping dread.
It’s a powerful opening act, right from that first page with the burning tree and nooses, ratcheting up the tension and fear and also the mystery – who are these women the vile sherrif tried to lynch? What had they done and how did they escape? Is it them now attacking the police station? Are they human? Something more? And if they are inhuman, could they perhaps still be better than the vicious, bigoted sherrif and his men? Monsters, after all, come in all sorts of shapes and guises, including some who may be human but inside are full of nothing but hatred and darkness. And hatred and darkness have a way of devouring everyone….
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