Dark Heart: The Purgatory of Leo Stamp by Darren J Guest
On Leo’s sixteenth birthday. something bad happened. Something so traumatic his mind fractured, and darkness filled the crack. Twenty years on and the crack is a canyon. The schizophrenic hallucination that offered sympathy has taken to mocking him, and the memory of that long-ago birthday claws at his darkest fears, overshadowing even the murder of his younger brother Davey. But just when Leo thinks life can’t get and worse… Leo dies.
A demon returns after twenty years.
An Angel follows close behind.
Leo is caught in an age-old conflict, his past lying at the dark heart of it all.
Leo Stamp is not a happy man. He has beautiful home, a thriving business and a car to die for but he is haunted by the ghosts of his childhood. The death of his sibling weighs heavy on his shoulders and has stayed with him for decades. Alone at night he voices his anxieties to a poster of James Bond on his wall. He is seeking answers to the horrors have plagued his life. His mental state continues to deteriorate and by page fifty Leo is dead. When he is given the opportunity at a second chance at life that is when his troubles really start.
Leo finds himself essentially a pawn between two opposing forces that he doesn’t fully understand. His potential tormentors/saviors are two men called Reuben and Michael. Each vies for Leo’s attention, making promises of help and support. They lead him this way and that, playing on his emotions and mental fragility, to the point where Leo is unsure whom to trust. Leo’s best friend John and John’s girlfriend, Sadie are also drawn into the escalating series of events and this eventually leads to a climactic confrontation.
Darren J Guest’s first novel is character driven piece. Leo is a tortured soul and the reader gets the opportunity to follow him as he attempts to cope with various psychological traumas as his world falls apart.
I liked that there aren’t many characters and few locations as this helped to convey the novel’s intimate nature. This is a story of one man as he battles with himself as much as the forces that are attempting to control him. Everyone feels the effects of Leo’s actions and every move that he makes has repercussions.
A word of warning the story does touch upon some particularly dark themes, the murder of Davey and a number of other children particularly so. Coupled with descriptions Leo mental issues this makes for a novel that can be quite harrowing at times. In fairness though these elements are entirely necessary for the plot evolve the way it does.
You may be forgiven for thinking that a novel with fewer than three hundred pages would be lacking in depth but Guest has crafted a truly compelling tale. Leo is an everyman character. Realistically he could be anyone. Though there are supernatural elements this is also as much about the human condition and how a person’s actions always have consequences. Guest takes time to explore the different levels of light and dark that inhabits us all.
I should also mention how much I enjoyed the little coda at the novels end, it hints that there may be more of this story that needs to be told. It strikes me that there is not only a history but also a wider scope to some of the characters, which could be explored. Dark Heart is a strong debut and I look forward to Darren’s next book.