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Book Review: Ring of Knives by James Daniels

Genre: Horror, Dark Fantasy, Thriller
Paperback: 122 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: March 27, 2011
ISBN-10: 1461038227
ISBN-13: 978-1461038221
Author Website: James Daniels

The Dead Man is a monthly action/horror series co-created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, the wildly successful authors of the Monk and Psych novels respectively. The series maintains its monthly output by keeping the stories short (they are really novellas not novels), having a stable of authors who contribute stories, and by selling them only in electronic format; thereby going from editing to publishing in a much faster time frame.

Ring of Knives by James Daniels is the second novel in the series that follows Matt Cahill, avalanche survivor. Having returned from his living burial able to see into the souls of humanity, Cahill believes that a madman named Jesse Weston may hold the key to understanding why he is plagued with visions of Mr. Dark and the strange netherworld of mankind’s ugly souls.

Though the dark fantasy milieu of the story intrigued me, I found Ring of Knives too violent, uncouth, and too trite to be really entertaining. As the story opens, Matt has damaged his car by running into a deer. Picked up by a tow truck driver with horrible mien, Matt has himself dropped off at the mental health facility where Jesse Weston is interned rather than going to the repair shop. As one might expect in a horror novel, all is not well at the facility, and Matt is soon caught up in a race to stop the evil that is infesting the facility and save the young girl Annica who believes she has telekinetic powers. As a plot line, the story is hackneyed, trite, commonplace.

Daniels is forced by his choice of unsophisticated plot to resort to shock value to keep readers interested. In its ninety-two (with lots of chapter header and conclusion white space) trade paperback sized pages, Daniels has a character that is a blend of Hannibal Lector and the gender-confused killer Silence of the Lambs was really about; a Lolitaesque description of the near rape of Annica but without the literary merit; humans who appear zombie-like in feature to Matt due to the impurity of their souls; a Yggrasil festooned with severed heads; and one unnecessary cunnilingus sex scene described in detail between Matt and his dead wife when Matt is subjected to electric shock. Couple these gruesomely described scenes with an excess of cursing and swearing, and you get a novel that gets off on its own shock value.

The story is certainly full of action. That, coupled with its short length, makes it a fast and easy read, effortlessly picked up and put down in an afternoon. There is no chapter where Matt is not in some sort of danger, and he certainly gets to fight a lot. The fight scenes are well-described if horrific in content (like when he finds Annica being raped) and Matt remains an honorable person the reader would certainly hope to emulate in real life. But Matt Cahill is not a deep or complex character – just the stereotypical man-with-a-dark-secret so common to thriller/quest stories in the horror genre.

Ring of Knives’ chief grace is that it is short and pseudo-redemptive. In the end, Matt wins out over the evils of the psychiatric hospital but is still under the shadow of Mr. Dark. But the redemptive ending does little to give value to the story in the face of the overwhelming evil, gruesome and sexually perverted material that comprise the novella’s events.

If you like horror, blood and gore, sexual deviancy and the tired old psychiatric hospital as den of evil trope you’ll get enjoyment out of this book. I couldn’t, didn’t, and just plain found Ring of Knives to be little more than poorly constructed Stephen King derivative shock jock writing. I don’t recommend it.