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Cry Down Dark Kindle Edition
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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This homage quality is the novel’s greatest pleasure. Tranchell’s protagonist, Peter Toombs, is the composite but coherent embodiment of an alter ego, the kind of character writer’s live to write. He (and the story surrounding him) alludes to and incorporates King, Barker, Poe, and Serling. And yet, despite these explicit references, the novel feels more like part of a tradition than something derivative. It is an original work in the way that bands form new songs for a new time while looking back to Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. In other words, Cry Down Dark has a clear heritage but a distinctive personality.
Plot-wise, the story begins with a funeral and stays in one of those small secretive towns that only exist in horror stories or maybe John Carpenter movies. There’s the hint of the supernatural (just a small sprinkle, really), but the primary suspense emerges in the human world of will, violence, and determination—the conflict between a stubborn, secretive town and an accomplished outsider. This outsider, Peter, laments his youthful ambition and immaturity, which led him to choose success over his love, Diana (who eventually married another man and, ultimately, died of a tumor, and whom the town claims as its own, with all the creepiness that suggests). Peter’s bond toward Diana leads him, now a successful horror writer, to buy her childhood home in a secluded Utah town. The rest of the story unfolds as the barely bottled hostility of the town toward Peter and the ominous prophecy of a small girl—“She’ll come back for you”—converge with Peter’s need to atone (though atone on his own terms, not the town’s). In the end, only Peter or the town will get what it wants, and the test of a good story is that outcome is never certain until the book concludes.
[Extended review: Picky, detail stuff—with some stuff that might shape how a first-time reader reads the book. In other words, a semi-spoiler]
Cry Down Dark lives in a literary and filmic world, one that takes place in the twenty-first century, but a twenty-first century devoid of its most ubiquitous features: smartphones and social media (there is one reference to a cell phone, but it is so fleeting and inconsequential that the phone may as well be a police scanner). Peter waits by the phone. He feels, as only last-century fiction (i.e. Misery) can create, separated from the connected world. There is a bit of anachronism in Peter's world, but this fault is forgivable (and generally consistent).
Not only is Peter Toombs in a cellphone-less 2016, he elects to stay in a small town knowing that his very predicament is easily solved by a car. He is a willing victim, almost (there is something of a Wicker Man vibe at times). It is fair to question this world and Peter’s consent to live in it. Yet, these apparent faults match with the kind of character Tranchell has created: a man who wants to believe in a moral and traditional world. He rejects contemporary society, for a time (he bring DVDs—no streaming). He stays in town because he is doing penance, accepting that he has earned his disfavor.
Peter is a man driven by ghosts, a few of which (a lost child, a dream of giants), do verge on cliché, especially as these elements come and go throughout the story, at times taking the forefront, at times seeming (like the technology of 2016) forgotten. Yet the strength of that primary bond between Peter and Diana is sufficient enough to drive the story, though not because of the power of love or some trite sentiment. Rather, Peter is, whether he wants to admit it, driven by a blend of guilt and entitlement. He certainly feels guilt toward his choices and how they led to Diana marrying another man. But he isn’t about to give up what he gained; he isn’t renouncing his wealth or success. In fact, his greatest interior struggle is how to not feel envy toward his best friend, Connor, who gained the television fame that Peter believes is rightfully his.
Peter’s ghosts, then, are not outside forces or resolvable battles. They are parts of his personality that drive him forward as a person who is both deeply flawed and intensely determined, even to the point of becoming cavalier and selfish. These traits, though, do not make Peter necessarily unlikeable or unsympathetic. Instead, they make him complex and, to some degree, tragic. Peter wants to know himself. He wants to grow. He wants to believe in God and a moral universe. And yet, these good and hopeful desires are at war with a very human—and American—belief that it is possible to have everything and sacrifice nothing. If Peter didn’t have this belief, he wouldn’t move to Bern, Utah, and he wouldn’t believe that the love of his life could still—despite her very obvious death—be alive.
There are craft issues with the book, but they tend to add to the novel’s charm rather than undermine it. The key of these is the question of point of view, specifically Tranchell’s evolving third-person narrator. For much of the book’s first portion, this narrator spends his attention in the third-person limited, aligned with Peter. But this narration changes. Eventually, the narrator, in a true metafiction movement, becomes Peter Toombs’s fictive narrating self—a Rod Serling type who freely moves between characters, events, knowledge, and voice. He knows the future, the past, and he (presumably “he”) makes moral notes and subtle jokes. In short, the narrator becomes a new character around the time the novel shifts from a tight, claustrophobic story about an alienated writer to a broad, sometimes comic-horror book about the town and people connected to that author.
In the end, the narrator is a welcome character and voice. He is a promise of what Tranchell may or may not develop in his future work (though it’s not always clear in Cry Down Dark whether the evolving narrative voice is intentional or a sign, rather, of the novel’s phases of construction). The one real problem with the narrator is that he sometimes undermines the novel’s true moments of suspense and conflict. For example, the narrator outs himself as more than a functional storyteller when revealing—unbeknownst to Peter Toombs—the identity of an assassin, a person Peter believed dead. This juicy secret that could emerge as a later discovery shifts the story from Peter’s to the narrator’s. The effect of this is to mute the suspense in scenes, though there is a trade-off: the narrator’s distance invites the growing possibility that Peter Toombs is not in control of his story; he really could die. So whereas the omniscient TV-horror host narrator (e.g. Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents) reduces the small conflicts within scenes, he raises the stakes for the overall story.
Ultimately, the narrative voice of the book’s second half is satisfying and compelling. It adds a large power to Tranchell’s small book, suggesting that whatever Peter Toombs’s fate, the person telling his story has many more tales to tell. And that is a delightful promise.
Peter Toombs is a dark and awkward kid who thought he’d grown up when he gained fame with his television horror show. But his heart’s still stuck in rural Utah, and he drags himself back for the funeral of Diana Ward, his high school and college sweetheart. Rather than return to Hollywood, Peter buys Diana’s childhood home – a move that in other books might lead to a long, dreary meditation on the meaning of life and moving on. But not in “Cry Down Dark.”
Peter finds instead a town with eerie secrets, populated by shady cops and skittish diner patrons and, quite possibly, a few darker types – and they all want him gone. He’s soon cowering in his house with the ghosts of his own mind, and a few outside of it.
As all the creepy mystery surges toward a fabulous, surprising and thoroughly weird pinnacle, Peter is forced to make unlikely allies and confront the pain of his past while fending off the threats of the present.
Tranchell expertly balances terror, tension and character, keeping readers on their toes as they become invested in Toombs’ story. A few recurring images recur a bit too often, but other motifs (including a baseball game that will change the way you watch the Dodgers forever) are spot-on. And with its slight length, “Cry Down Dark” can be enjoyed in one evening. (Just don’t forget to leave a few lights on when you go to bed.)
Most recent customer reviews
My favorite part was the almost poetic flow of the writing style.Read more