First published back in January of 1989, US author Dan Simmons’ epic novel ‘Carrion Comfort’ was first written as a much shorter novelette which was then published within Simmons’ ‘Prayers To Broken Stones’ (1990) collection. At the time of its release, the full-length novel received high critical acclaim, in particular winning the Horror Writers Association prestigious ‘Bram Stoker Award’ for Best Novel in the year of its publication.

DLS Synopsis:
Unbeknownst to the masses, there are those who possess psychic powers far beyond our comprehension. Powers that enable these few individuals to control the actions of others, simply through the power of their mind. A power they collectively call the Ability.

It’s a frightening power which psychiatrist Saul Laski knows all too well. An ability he encountered over forty years ago, whilst a prisoner of war at the Chełmno extermination camp in Poland. There, Saul was subjected to this horrific controlling power at the mind of the Nazi Oberst – Wilhelm Von Borchert.

However, despite all odds, Saul Laski somehow survived this ordeal. But he never forgot the feeling of being Used by the Oberst. The terrible control he was subjected to by this despicable mind-vampire.

Forty-years later and Saul hasn’t forgotten what happened to him and his fellow captives. Ever since his time at the Nazi extermination camp, Saul has been searching for the Oberst. Trying to track him down to finally enact justice once and for all. He knows the mind-vampire is still alive. Saul can sense it. 

However, his investigations have now led him to an even more terrifying revelation. The Oberst isn’t alone. There are more of these mind-vampires out there and once a year they come together to play murderous games with innocent victims. They call it the Island Club. An exclusive retreat where they battle it out using the victims of their power.

However, all is not well within this small group of psychotic mind-raping murders. Within the small group, old friendships are suffering, and the internal feuding has led to a series of catastrophic actions. Actions which have spilt out into the public domain and have now caught the eye of the law. And indeed…the ever-watchful eye of Saul Laski.

A war is breaking out between these mind-vampires. Innocent victims are being caught up in the fight. Those unfortunate enough to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Used, killed and discarded like broken puppets to will of these psychotic beings.

One such unfortunate victim was Natalie Preston’s father. But Natalie won’t let the matter rest. She makes it her mission to uncover the truth and bring justice to her father’s death. Together with Saul and Sheriff Joe Gentry, they will stop at nothing to find those responsible for decades of mindless, senseless deaths.

But their mission if fraught with danger. These mind-vampires are powerful individuals. And they will do whatever it takes to retain their power and keep their sadistic games going…

DLS Review:
This novel has been referred to as an epic tale of unrelenting horror. There’s definitely horror within it. In fact, there’s plenty thrown into the proverbial mix throughout its length. However, personally I’d say the novel perhaps leans more towards a sci-fi-horror. Kind of the same territory as ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ (1956) and the like.

That said, it’s certainly an epic tale, not just because of its substantial page count. What we have with ‘Carrion Comfort’ is a story that spans decades (although aside from the opening chapters, the brunt of the tale is set over a period of roughly twelve months in 1980/81). We also have a large cast of characters intertwined within the complexities of this storyline. Characters who see the story reaching across the length and breadth of the globe.

Of course, we have our principal protagonists to latch onto throughout this. Characters who guide us through this elaborate tale and provide us with a sense of being a part of the events. These are namely the psychiatrist Dr Saul Laski and the young photographer Natalie Preston. On the other side, i.e. that of the antagonists, we have a trio of mind-vampires who’ve been friends and competitors in their game since WWII – comprising of Willi (the Oberst that is Saul’s nemesis), along with the aging but nevertheless equally dangerous Melanie Fuller and Nina Drayton. However, jealousy and rivalry has torn this trio apart, and now their feuding has brought the attention of the authorities, as well as that of the loved ones to those innocent victims caught up in the deadly dispute.

There’s a lot going on in this plot. A huge cast of characters playing out their individual parts in the story and adding to the complexity of all the connecting and converging substories. However, it does take a while for all of these pieces to start to fall into place, and indeed, for the overarching story to really establish itself. Even after a good hundred or so pages, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty about what’s going on and who’s who in everything.

This isn’t helped by what I would call some decidedly wishy-washy characterisation. Even our principal characters and the standout antagonists in the tale, are really only mildly sketched out at best. We’re talking to the point where it’s a struggle to really picture them in your head, or truly make tight bonds with them during this epic plight.

That said, a couple of secondary characters – Hollywood Producer Tony Harod and his Personal Assistant Maria Chen – are possibly the most fleshed-out of the characters, and as such, the substory involving these two (and their involvement within the wider plot) provides some of the most gripping aspects of the whole book. In fact, the grubby, seedy, misogynistic rapist that Harod turns out to be, delivers some of the most impactful moments in the entire story.

Due to the sheer length and scale of the tale, there’s a hell of a lot going on at any one time in it. In fact, the story almost feels like it’s separated into distinctly discrete parts, which each hold their own plot and direction. The early chapters are very much focussed on setting down the plot, establishing the characters, and bringing them together into their respective groupings. Then we’re hurtled off to Philadelphia where we have some of the most action-filled chapters and indeed where the novel perhaps leans the most towards that of a horror story. You see, here we have a street gang thrown into the mix, and a scythe-wielding teenaged lad who’s under the control of a rather pissed off Melanie Fuller. Yeah, this book gets pretty darn entertaining at times.

However, it’s when the tale moves to the private island of the billionaire industrialist C. Arnold Barent, that the explosive action really ramps up a few notches. By now a good handful of these mind-vampires have been revealed to us and are getting involved in a sort of Battle Royale game on the island with their various Surrogates. What ensures is some of the most entertaining and fast-paced chapters in the book, with a magnificently epic finale to the magnitude that a novel of this size and investment of time requires.

This all sounds very fast-paced, entertaining and dare I say intense. However, for the vast majority of the book, the story doesn’t really deliver this level of urgency and pacing. Instead, there’s a tonne of excess padding to almost every aspect of the unfolding storyline. If you think some of Stephen King’s novels can at times become sidetracked and long-winded, then prepare yourself for this one.

Honestly, everything seems to take Simmons an age to tell. Exploring a house for clues will literally take chapters. A late night catch up chat in Saul’s kitchen will last pages and pages. Yes, characterisation is important, and yes, setting the scene is also vital to the effectiveness of the delivery. But honestly, at times I’d read the book for an hour or so and it felt like so very little progression had actually been made with the story. Just everything feels overly described to the point where you’re pleading with Simmons to just get the hell on with it.

Furthermore, the pacing isn’t particularly helped by the timeline constantly flittering back and forth. With this Simmons will have us revisit the events from a chapter again within the proceeding chapter, only the second time around it’s from another character’s perspective. Honestly, this doesn’t always work very well and at times can make the reader feel like they’re simply trudging back over already trodden ground, rather than powering on with the story. In fact, this constant revisiting from an alternative perspective is in my opinion a very lazy writing technique, stuttering the pacing to the point of creeping frustration.

That said, there’s still plenty in this epic tale to love. The sheer ambitious scale of the beast is enough to have you enwrapped in its pages. The sprinklings of horror throughout the novel are often dark and provide that much needed chill factor to the elaborate hunt for the psychotic perpetrators.

This is the sort of novel that you need to get your teeth into and keep on going with, or you’ll soon lose interest if you put it down for too long at a time. Yes, for a story, it’s a sizeable investment in time compared to most non-Stephen King horror novels. But ultimately, in my opinion at least, it’s worth it. There’s plenty in there, with the grand finale absolutely delivering the goods after you’ve churned through so many pages.

The novel runs for a total of 690 pages. 

© DLS Reviews


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