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Book Review: The Light Is The Darkness by Laird Barron

Conrad Navarro is the last surviving member of a very special family. His body and mind have been honed to perfection by his genius engineer of a father and his bloodthirsty, mysterious associates. His DNA is unusual to say the least. He exhibits extra sensory mental powers and is stronger, faster and deadlier than your average Homo sapiens.  Conrad is a fighter in The Pageant, an international secret tournament, where modern day gladiators slaughter each other for the pleasure of rich patrons. But he has an obsession in sister Imogene, who has disappeared. A temperamental FBI agent, she was on the trail of Dr. Drake, a shadowy scientist who she believes murdered their brother. Conrad cannot rest until he finds her and unravels the secret of his family. But the years of sex, debauchery and bloodshed are catching up to him and his search uncovers occult secrets that are better left alone.

The Light Is The Darkness was released last year in a gorgeous, limited edition hardback, with illustrations by David Ho. It is now being re- released as a paperback, which gives me a chance to write about it. Barron’s first novella is the closest one can get to a pulp adventure these days, without resorting to pastiche. In fact, I was so busy soaking up the bloody action, globe- trotting set pieces and occult atmosphere, that it only hit me around the middle that the story is essentially a blend of pulp tropes. The brooding, perpetually hangover Conrad is a competent, sharp weapon of a character, a modern day Doc Savage. Robert E. Howard would have liked him. Dr. Drake on the other hand is a different kind of mad scientist nemesis. A wonderfully sinister presence, he is Nyarlathotep masquerading as Fu Manchu.

There are antecedents to this type of book. Kard Edward Wagner used to do this sort of thing effortlessly and there are several Roger Zelazny short stories that use classic pulp adventure elements, transforming them into poetry. But this is a kind of fiction that no one does anymore and it’s a pity. Not only does Barron avoid the clichés, but there is a joyous energy trapped in these pages and it makes you feel sorry that the book is so short. The Light Is The Darkness seethes with power. The fights are brutal, the gore is glistening and the magic is black. I loved every page.

(-Dimitris Kontogiannis-)

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