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Wow! An amazing first novel!,
This review is from: Hell Rig (Paperback)All I can say is... WOW!!! (Actually, I can say a lot more than that--and I will--but I'm starting with WOW!)
I owe JE Gurley an apology. I've known him casually from authors' conventions for a few years. He's always very upbeat and intensely supportive of other writers. But I never knew he was an author himself. Oh, I knew he FANCIED himself an author but, at those events, maybe a quarter of the attendees are wanna-bes who have The Great American Novel lurking somewhere inside. In my arrogance, I simply assumed that Gurley was more of a fan-type than an actual author.a year Even when he kindly gave me a copy of HELL RIG awhile ago, I accepted it graciously and promptly tossed it on the shelf, wrongly assuming it was another of those semi-self published messes that people are always giving to authors to read.
Ye gods, was I WRONG!!!!! Gurley can WRITE!!!
HELL RIG is a beautifully crafted old-fashioned horror novel that just sings from beginning to end. Yes, there are some minor problems with it, which I'll get to in a moment, but largely the book is one damned fine spooky tale.
Briefly, the plot concerns an oil rig which was wiped out by a combination of Hurricane Katrina and a rig-worker turned mass murderer. A clean up crew is sent out to renovate the structure in the time period between Katrina and the hurricane that hit roughly a month later. Once there, the chills start to mount as the body count rises and the clean-up crew begins to realize that there may be a non-human horror lurking aboard the rig.
I read this book and was amazed at the fluidity of the writing and the power of the story telling. There's a literary quality to the work, an intelligence to the language that is not at all flowery or pretentious. Gurley simply refuses to "write down" to his audience or to over-explain as so many authors do; instead, he assumes his readers are intelligent as well. What truly impressed me is that, without any overt exposition, Gurley managed to subtly make me familiar with the workings of the oil rig--and trust me, I have NO interest whatsoever in oil rigs!!! By doing so, he manages to create an atmosphere of menace in the story's environment in a way that I haven't seen since THE SHINING. One often hears of a place within a novel being referred to as one of the "characters" and it is usually not true. HELL RIG is the exception.
Unfortunately, there's nothing in HELL RIG that will mark it as a horror classic. While it is very much a work full of original ideas, none of them are earth-shatteringly original. But, it IS the kind of novel you'll read, enjoy, put on the shelf and then, when enough time has passed to blur the details, you'll pick it up and enjoy it all over again. It's the perfect book to curl up with in front of a fireplace on a stormy night for a few literary thrills.
Now,the negatives which kept me from assigning HELL RIG that final star...
Gurley's weakness is in his character work. There are a LOT of characters in HELL RIG and while the author distinguishes them by description, he is not quite able to give each of them a distinctive voice in terms of the dialogue such that the reader can easily tell them apart. One must keep flipping back to the two or three pages where the crew is introduced to the reader in order to remember who's who. In addition, though each character has distinct traits, few of them seem truly organic and, as a result, it is difficult for the reader to truly care about what's happening to them. That's not to say we're not interested, fascinated even, but the emotional impact on the reader is lacking.
A prime example of this lack of depth is the love story element in HELL RIG. The two characters meet, share an attraction, find some common ground and undergo a horrific experience together. While that may be enough to START something romantic, it's hardly enough to produce a True Love such that one would be willing to risk death for the other.
Plot-wise, there is a convention throughout HELL RIG that is rather disturbing until you get used to it. Frankly, I'm not sure whether or not this convention was intentional. If it was, it's pretty brilliant. If not, it's an example of bad writing that, nevertheless, worked out in the author's favor. Here's what I mean: With almost every murder, the murder occurs, the body is often discovered, the reader gets to read the consequences... and THEN Gurley takes us back a few moments before the murder so we can share the victim's point of view. It's an odd literary structure, one I've not seen done quite this way before and, until you get used to it, it's mildly disconcerting.
And, finally, the voodoo aspects of the plot, while certainly set-up early enough, then disappear until very late in the book. This is problematic as since Gurley's "monsters" are absent throughout much of the story, when they finally appear, the foreshadowing is long in the past and it's as if they cropped up out of nowhere. I suspect that Gurley wanted to write a "Voodoo Story" but got so caught up in the STORY elements that he needed to "get back" to the voodoo at the end.
Frankly, I think HELL RIG works beautifully without the voodoo elements. I think the mistake that Gurley makes is that he felt the necessity of wrapping things up neatly with a precisely defined "monster" that explains the why and wherefore of what has happened in his fictional world. However, I think this book would have been fine without that "explanation" and, truthfully, I think it may have added as element to HELL RIG that would not have been unwelcome.
But, these are minor quibbles on my part. HELL RIG is a truly impressive work of horror fiction and, I hope, it is a harbinger of what's to come from the extraordinarily talented JE Gurley.