Friday, June 17, 2011

Blood Born by Matthew Warner (reproductive horror)

Daniella Connolly was on a date with boyfriend Eric Gensler when he tried to go too far with her. She ran away. Soon after, she was knocked unconscious and brutally raped. Gensler was immediately suspected, especially since his filed-to-a-point canine tooth seemed to be the source of nasty bites on Daniella's neck and shoulder.

Daniella's mother, Dr. Margaret Connolly, is a fertility specialist at the CalPark Fertility Clinic. Her supervisor's work in the experimental wing is so top secret that Margaret's supposedly all-access key card won't let her in.

When Detective Christina Randall gets involved with Daniella's case, she gets a big surprise. Daniella is only the latest woman to have been raped in a series of assaults. These have all resulted in pregnancies that are progressing at over 30 times the normal rate.

In just one week, during which the new mothers emaciate to astonishing proportions, the "baby" is born: a pseudo-primate whose first meal is the meatiest parts of Mommy. After another week, the new addition is fully grown and ready to start its own horrific procreation spree.

(Author Matthew Warner's regular readers may recognize Detective Randall from his first novel, The Organ Donor. And CalPark was featured in his second novel, Eyes Everywhere. I haven't read the former, but the latter is a truly excellent psychological thriller.)

Warner manages something all-too rare in modern horror: he writes about extremes without any trace of his tongue in his cheek. Every horrible event in Blood Born is told completely straight, even the ones that in other hands would be ridiculous. All disbelief is suspended as Warner takes his readers on a ride unlike any they've been on before. His combination of intelligence and confidence lets you know you're in solid hands, so you can just let him do his thing.

This results in a 500-page horror festival that flies by as Warner takes the reader into new territory. I sometimes wanted to stop and look around at all the details -- Warner is especially deft with all the medical information required for the plot to make sense -- but the narrative drive of Blood Born is such that it quickly became clear who was at the wheel, and it wasn't me.

Small press horror novels are numerous, and it can be hard to know which ones are worth your time, but my experience with the work of Matthew Warner -- with Eyes Everywhere and Blood Born in particular -- shows that he he delivers intelligent, visceral, and psychological horror of dependable high quality.

He seems to be always testing himself, not content with delivering another version of his last book. His book of essays, Horror Is Not a 4-Letter Word, displays his knowledge of the genre, inside and out. It sounds like a product endorsement, and I guess it is: Matthew Warner is a brand you can trust.

For more on Blood Born, read Matthew Warner's guest blog here on Somebody Dies.

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