Blood Fugue by Joseph D’Lacey
Reclusive outdoorsman, Jimmy Kerrigan, finds himself battling a vampiric plague which threatens to destroy Hobson’s Valley, the isolated mountain community he calls home. When his family, friends and neighbours fall prey to the ‘Fugue’, Kerrigan is the only one who can save them and prevent the disease spreading beyond the remote town’s boundaries.
Kerrigan is uniquely equipped to deal with the outbreak. He carries a variant strain of Fugue enabling him to overcome and heal its victims. However, the nature of the illness ensures neither he nor those he hunts down are aware they’re infected. After feeding on humans, the diseased forget their behaviour. Even Kerrigan, having confronted or neutralised a Fugue, is unable to recall his actions as guardian of Hobson’s Valley.
The illness and its effects have, like tetanus, survived in the earth around the mountain for countless generations. The lineage of Fugue Hunters has always been able to reverse an outbreak but not this time; someone wants the disease to spread and, in combination with a mutation of the virus, Kerrigan realises he may not be strong enough to contain it.
Kerrigan is challenged beyond his limits when an innocent family of outsiders hikes straight into a wilderness crawling with Fugues – a wilderness he is responsible for. Can he really save them and protect the town? Can he defeat the creature who has caused the Fugue to mutate? And, most crucially, when he learns the horrifying truth about his own infection, will he even have the strength to try?
Kerrigan is a fascinating character. No wait, that’s not right, if we’re being 100% accurate Kerrigan is two fascinating characters. The virus that courses through his veins effectively makes him two distinctly different people. One is Jimmy Kerrigan, reclusive writer who jumps at his own shadow. The other is the Fugue Hunter, a being utterly driven to stopping the Fugue from spreading. A large part of Jimmy’s journey is trying to discover how to reconcile these two disparate elements of his psyche into one whole.
Elsewhere, D’Lacey captures the minutiae of small town America with a skill that is reminiscent of early Stephen King. The residents of Hobson’s Valley initially appear to be a wholesome bunch, but there is some nice bitterness, a dash of unhealthy resentment and more than a few skeletons in closets. There’s a character called Randall Moore, a convenience store owner, who rather perfectly illustrates this. All smiles and goodwill, but underneath the thin veneer of civility, not nearly so nice as he first appears. His natural animosity toward Kerrigan creates some genuinely creepy moments later on in the story.
The book’s finale features Kerrigan unleashing his full-on berserker rage against a group of the infected. The Fugue Hunter finally confronts the power of the Fugue, and all hell breaks loose. These scenes were a real highlight – bloody, outrageous and well worth the wait. There is also a nice coda to the tale that offers the suggestion events may not have resolved themselves entirely. Jimmy Kerrigan may return at some point in the future. I do hope so. Much as I enjoyed the intimate setting of this novel I think I would be equally interested in seeing a continuation of this story unfold on a larger stage. The prospect of something on a bigger scale fills me with a certain amount of glee.
I’ve heard Joseph D’Lacey’s writing described as “eco-horror”, this seems an entirely apt label. The underlying themes of this novel subtly explore how man and nature aren’t always able to coexist together harmoniously. Kerrigan spends his time fighting against, and protecting people from, a physical manifestation of a disease that has existed for eons in the wild. The vast tracks of forest that surround Hobson’s Valley are the prefect breeding ground for the Fugue’s evolution. It has reached the point where the infection has become one with the eco-system that it exists in.
Horror can be the trickiest of genres to gauge correctly. I think it’s the mark of a good author that they know when to go for the out-and-out shock and when to leave the reader to fill in the blanks themselves. Blood Fugue is at times graphic, and occasionally extreme, but D’Lacey knows exactly what scenes require that shock value and which can be left to the reader’s imagination. If you’re a horror fan and you’re not already reading Joseph D’Lacey you had better have a bloody good excuse. In fact I demand you remedy this outrageous oversight immediately.
Blood Fugue is published by Proxima Books and is available from 16th November.