First published back in September of 2016, British author J.R. Park’s novel ‘The Exchange’ took a sidestep away from horror, instead edging towards a more gritty hardboiled thriller.

DLS Synopsis:
In an abandoned construction site, eighteen-year-old Jake Forrest and his friends face down Scullin and his gangster suited gang.  They each have something the other wants.  It’s a classic standoff.  They both know it.   They can feel the tension in the air.  Any second it could erupt into violence.

Forrest and his gang came across the briefcase by pure chance.  It now appeared that Scullin would stop at nothing in order to get the case back.

Of course, now Scullin had Jake’s girlfriend, Laura.  As the two gangs faced off across the derelict wasteland, the young girl’s life was being decided.  Her worth to the group being weighed up.  It would be a tough call.

However, Jake had another bargaining tool.  One of Scullin’s henchmen, a thug by the name of Knight, was currently tied up within the basement of a nearby derelict building.  A gory stump all that remains from where his hand had been hacked off.

Luckily, Scullin believed Jake still had one of the two keys to the case.  The keys were useless without each other.  Scullin knew that.  It was the only reason why Jake and his gang were still alive.  Scullin’s man, Knight, was expendable.  For all Scullin knew, Knight had already bled to death.

Unfortunately for Jake, Scullin also had a backup to bargain with.  It had been her second day on the job when Special Constable Aimee Forrest was taken by Scullin’s gang.  She was now being held hostage in the back of one of Scullin’s cars on the new Oracle Centre construction site.  She’d already seen one of her colleagues die at the hands of this criminal gang.  The twenty-five-year-old trainee officer knew she’d be next if she didn’t get help.  Time was undoubtedly running out for her.

Meanwhile, the Servants of the Sacred Whisper, led by the ageless Taal, were drawing close.  Taal knew the role that each one of those in his company had to play.  Despite his superior level within the Servitude, he still felt it an honour to be partnered with each one of them on this journey.

For a dark time approaches.  The Stygian refer to it as the Calling – a time when their original masters grew closest to this existence.  Taal knew the case that in the middle of this gang dispute contained something very special.  Something that could bring the most delirious joy, but in the wrong hands, it could unleash beings of unimaginable power; creatures that could never be stopped.

They were now on the very brink of the Calling.  And if those who wished for the darkness to descend were successful, if these demons were unleashed, it would bring about an age of destruction and suffering, the likes of which haven’t been seen before.

All secrets would be revealed in time…

DLS Review:
Good God is this one bludgeoning mindfuck of a read?!  From ‘Terror Byte’ (2014), to ‘Punch’ (2014) to ‘Upon Waking’ (2015) you could pretty much plot Park’s genre-tight progression – his stories getting grittier and darker, steering more and more towards pulpier horror with grindhouse dirt lodged under his nails.  And then you get this novel.  This furious eruption of violence and unending mind-destroying tension.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where I’ve been kept so utterly on edge, put on the very brink of a coronary for so unbearably long.

Okay, so that can sound bad.  It could sound like this is too full on.  Just too frigging intense.  And to be honest, in ‘The Exchange’ Park walks a damn fine line between delivering a monstrously intense read, and sending the reader into utter uncontrollable burnout.  I have to admit, at times I found myself needing to sit back, pause for a minute, and take stock of what the flying fuck has just been going on.

Driving the novel at full throttle from the start is an almost Manga like obsession to spike your adrenaline levels at every possible godforsaken opportunity.  Characters pour into the tale like there’s no tomorrow.  I kid you not; within the first handful of pages you’re introduced to more characters than there are racists at a BNP rally.  It’s like the opening chapters of ‘Catch 22’ (1961) if they had been rewritten into a furious ‘Fist Of The North Star’ (1983 - 1988) style story.

It’s like a manically swung sledgehammer hitting you square on in the face from the very outset.  There’s just such a force behind the novel.  Such a constant, unrelenting pressure to keep it thundering onwards akin to an out of control bulldozer let rip across a rubble covered wasteland.  Furthermore, as the violence escalates, so does the viciousness and the inevitable bloodshed that follows.  Yep– you’re going to need to buckle yourself in for one bitch of a ride; the violence levels escalating to those that will get even the most hardened of gorehounds drooling at the resulting aftermath.

Stitching together the various pieces within the novel soon becomes a bit of a side project for the reader, as they plough on through the high-octane madness.  Furthermore, Park purposefully scatters suggestive seeds throughout the length of the novel, for the reader to harvest and attempt to make some meaningful sense of.  Indeed, you need to keep your wits about you if you’re going to have any hope of garnering a reasonably full picture amongst the carnage that’s taking place before your very eyes.

During all of this Park throws some purposefully never explained mysteries into the mix – the most notable of which being what the contents of the briefcase are.  Very much in a similar vein to the mysteriously glowing contents of the briefcase in Tarantino’s classic ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994), Park offers up a host of micro hints and clues throughout the story – all pointing to the vast magnitude and importance of the contents – but none giving enough away to enable the reader to actually identify what it is that locked away in there.

Eventually the novel starts drawing to its inevitable grand finale, whereby all the characters (well, those that have survived thus far) converge into one hyped-up dramatic final showdown.  Park doesn’t skip a beat with the delivery of this critically tense scene where, because of the intensity of the entire tale up until this very moment, everything needs to play out to a tight perfection.  Of course Park pulls it off flawlessly.  The man knows the game well enough by now.  He knows what’s required.  And he certainly knows how to execute a tight finale.

All in all what you get with ‘The Exchange’ is a read that feels like a sensory overload from start to finish.  It’s one that catapults the reader along with a reckless momentum, dragging you along in a blur-like daze as all hell erupts around you.  Characters bombard you from all angles as they face off in the moody backdrop of an urban wasteland.  It’s gritty and tense and gets your blood pumped at the relentless in-your-face hardboiled intensity of it all.

Drop the mundane bullshit of life for just a handful of hours, pour yourself one big ass motherfucker of a drink for the journey that awaits you, and let Park drag you into a world of violence, conflict, ruthless vengeance and desperately heroic actions, as mankind blindly edges towards utter annihilation.  Oh yeah, it’s that good!

8-4  6-11  12-3  / 1-5  8-6  10-17  8-7  2-5  E-6’  7-3  /  5-3  9-3  8-11  14-3  3-4  P-6  / 7-2  5-6  /  11-3  8-5  5-8  /  11-8  8-6  6-1  9-4  11-6  7-6  11-5  3-2  16-10

The novel runs for a total of 203 pages (along with a further 10 page preview of the introduction and first chapter of Park’s next novella – Mad Dog).

© DLS Reviews

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