The idea that God is dead and the Devil is running wild is one that the characters in Vile Blood have every reason to embrace. Deputy Sheriff Gene Martindale and his sister, Skye, lost their parents to unspeakable violence when Skye was still a toddler and Gene hardly into his teens. More recently, Gene’s wife and their unborn child were killed in a most gruesome manner by two members of a cult, leaving Gene, his young son, and a now seventeen-year-old Skye to cling together as a family unit.
But as horrific as their past is, their future holds far worse. When four men passing through the town decide to give Skye a hard time – or worse – one night as she’s walking home from her job at the town’s diner something in her snaps. Something monstrous, powerful, and evil. Something Skye always knew on some level was there, but which she’d fought desperately to keep contained. Something she calls The Other.
Confronted the following morning with the resulting abattoir-like scene along the side of the road, Gene knows he’s looking at something he’s seen before and had hoped to never see again. Something he knows was caused by his sister. Something he has no idea how to deal with, but knows he somehow must. Unfortunately, things go from worse to screwed when the Sheriff of the neighboring county, a man who worked the Martindale family crime scene 15 years prior, also realizes there’s something familiar about the carnage and, upon finding Skye’s broken glasses amongst the gore, makes the connection between the two massacres.
And as if that wasn’t enough for Gene to deal with, Junior Cotton, one of the nasty pieces of work responsible for the murder of Gene’s wife and unborn child, escapes from the psychiatric facility where he’s been housed for the last five years and immediately heads for Gene with two things on his mind: revenge and exposing Skye for what she really is…something worse than either she or Gene could possibly have imagined.
The imagination of author Max Wilde, which is actually the pen name of crime writer Roger Smith, is a thing to behold, as Vile Blood is one of the most intense, graphic books I have ever read. This is decidedly not a novel for the squeamish or faint of heart, as the following passage exemplifies:
Mama’s reply was to remove the silver revolver from her purse and shoot the man in the neck. He went down in a geyser of blood. She shot the woman in the stomach, her screams lost in the waving sea of wheat that stretched on and on forever. Then he and mama had spent a lazy afternoon in the bathroom with the twins, applying barbed wire and razor blades and finally gasoline to their naked bodies, while their eyes – the lids deftly removed by his mother’s steady hand – had stared at them from beyond horror.
Beyond horror indeed. And while there’s no question Vile Blood more than deserves to be labeled as a horror novel, Wilde/Smith has in fact aimed for – and achieved – something beyond horror in the telling of his story. As Skye fights to control The Other, she is forced to confront the very nature of good vs. evil, God vs. the Devil, free-will vs. the preordained. And unlike in a run-of-the-mill horror story, the characters in Vile Blood are not there merely to serve as killer or victim; they are intelligent (no bimbos in high heels running headlong through a forest at night here), introspective, and conflicted about the paths they find themselves walking.
Gene loves his sister, but knows he must serve a greater good by fighting to stop her – permanently if necessary – from hurting anyone else, especially him or his son. Skye fought hard for fifteen years to contain The Other knowing the destruction of which it was capable, yet finds herself oddly seduced by the confidence and physical power she possesses when The Other is let loose. Even Junior, easily the most extreme character, finds his plans radically shifting when push comes to shove and he’s finally face to face with Skye.
And while Vile Blood certainly represents a change in direction for Smith from his previous crime/thriller novels from a subject matter point of view, the underlying things that make him so appealing as an author are still very much in evidence, chief among them his ability to meld an audaciously bold tone with exquisite turns of phrase. There is depth to this gore, in more ways than one, and Smith once again manages to make the ugliest possible events oddly appealing.
Vile Blood is available at Amazon.