First published back July of 1987, ‘Valley Of Lights’ was British author Stephen Gallagher’s eighth full length novel to be published.
Out on the fringe of ‘The Deuce’ in Phoenix, Arizona, Sergeant Alex Volchak has been called to the Paradise Motor Court to find out what the hell is going on with three men who appear to have been asleep for four days straight in a low-cost motel room. Upon entering the musky room, Volchak finds the three men completely inert – seemingly dead to the world. Each one in a worrying comatose state, but nevertheless each one still breathing. Bags of baby food in abundance around the three brain-dead men. This was turning out to be some weird shit.
Later that day, Volchak is informed by his shift commander, Lieutenant Michaels that upon the three men being carted away to hospital, one of the men died just from being lifted into the gurney. The narcotics guys couldn’t find a thing on or in them. There seemed to be no physical explanation for his or either of the other two men’s comatose state. The only lead Volchak had being the name of the man who checked them in for five weeks - Gilbert Mercado.
More by luck than anything else, Volchak stumbles across the man who could only be Mercardo, and a chase duly ensues. A chase that ends abruptly in Mercardo’s capture. But as Volchak tries to speak to the breathless fugitive, the strangest thing happens. After announcing that “you’ll never know”, the man’s eyes roll backwards and he dies there and then.
Not long after, a call comes in from the south side of Encanto Park where a gang of white males were seen pursuing and attacking a male Hispanic. When fellow Phoenix PD officers, Travis and Leonard, respond to the call, they find no evidence of any such situation. However, as it turns out, it was a case of vigilantes after the blood of a child murderer. Some sicko had taken a little kid out to Encanto Park, abused him and then tried to eat him.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, and without warning one of the comatose guys from the Motel room wakes and walks out of the hospital without a word to anyone.
Things weren’t adding up in a way that Volchak could easily get a grasp on. He had an inkling that somehow, Mercado was still alive and out there – taking liberties with the bodies of others. But he needed more than that. And so he does all he knows he can do. He hits the streets of Phoenix once again and starts asking questions. And then, when it seems like no one anywhere has seen his man, the desk clerk at the Sunset Beach Motor Court comes up trumps. It was his man. It had to be. And now the game was on once again.
But it all becomes too damn personal when the young daughter of Volchak’s new lover is abducted by this psychotic killer. All of a sudden, the situation is horrifyingly close to home for Volchak. And there seems to be nothing he can do to stop this descending trail of murder and death. No matter how close Volchak comes to capturing the man responsible, it’s never enough. One death after the next after the next; blood and carnage is all that’s left in the wake of this psychotic killer. A killer who takes what he wants and then moves on without a second’s thought. A killer who can hide in the flesh of others, and move on to the next when the heat’s on. A killer without a body of his own. A killer who is proving to be unstoppable...
Gallagher’s ‘Valley of Lights’ involves one of those plots that is so utterly 80’s horror that it’s hard not to get all nostalgic when reading the tale. Indeed, it has so blooming much of that wonderful 80’s gritty-cum-clichéd charm in it that much of the joy to be had from the tale is in its (now very much dated) overall style and plot premise.
Written in the first-person-perspective of the gritty-Phoenix-cop, Alex Volchak, the tale follows the downtrodden widower as he embarks upon the strangest and most disturbing case of his depressingly devoted career.
Indeed, at first it’s quite a puzzling case that just keeps on escalating in its seriousness. Along with thoughts edging towards the supernatural, Volchak has to contend with the fact that no one will believe a word of it if he even just tries to explain what he believes is going on.
However, the stakes are suddenly raised tenfold when the young daughter (Georgie) of his next-door neighbour (Loretta) is abducted by the man/entity that is responsible for the murders and comatose bodies around Phoenix. Up to this point, Volchak’s blossoming relationship with Loretta had been going reasonably well. His hang-ups since losing his previous wife finally being pushed back somewhat. And then Georgie is taken. Life’s certainly not been kind of the guy!
Okay, so the horror-cum-sci-fi premise isn’t exactly a new idea. Jack Sholder’s film ‘The Hidden’ (1987) of the same year as ‘Valley Of Lights’ is basically pretty much the same plot. Perhaps even closer is Richard Laymon’s ‘Flesh’ (1987), (coincidentally?) also of that very same year. And then of course you could say that of course ‘Invasion Of The Bodysnatachers’ (1956) and the like all have a part to play in formulating the original concept. But who cares? It’s a great idea, and it’s got plenty of scope for playing around with. So why the hell not?
Gallagher manages to achieve a particularly effective dusty-suburban backdrop, with the trailer-parks, budget motels and backalley street settings all making for a suitably gritty atmosphere for the murder and mayhem to churn through.
Characterisation isn’t a pressing point for the direction of the tale, and as such, is only moderately developed throughout the entire length of the novel. And this actually works best for the first-person-perspective narrative; with dialogue, escalating tension and our narrator’s own inner-turmoil, all forming the main backbone for which the horror fun weaves in and out of.
The final showdown is inevitable. The reader can see it coming from page one. And Gallagher pulls off a cracker – with the dusty desert setting and a one-on-one standoff making for a suitably western-esque finale. It works, it wraps up well, and to be honest, pretty much anything else would (more than likely) have flopped onto its face.
All in all it’s not a great piece of fiction, but at the same time it isn’t half bad either. Well worth picking up and giving a read if you find a copy hanging around on a dusty shelf somewhere.
The novel runs for a total of 191 pages.
© DLS Reviews