Caitlin R. Kiernan,
Low Red Moon
(Subterranean Press/Roc, 2003)

Caitlin R. Kiernan is one of the rising stars of horror, and her literary prowess is on full display in her novel Low Red Moon. Not only is the story a most unpredictable of sequels to her highly acclaimed novel Threshold: A Novel of Deep Time, it is streaked with deadly slashes of originality.

Whereas Threshold was rooted in a neo-Gothic Lovecraftian universe, Low Red Moon is a more conventional tale brandishing a fascinating, intriguing, yet slightly incomprehensible source of evil. We first meet murderess Narcissa Snow sitting in a hotel room that she has remade into a bloody chamber of horrors, arguing with the voices of a lifetime of victims as she fervently waits for a phone call. We are given strange glimpses of a dark fellowship, which Narcissa is determined to join, and it soon becomes clear that whatever horror she will unleash in these pages is done in pursuit of that one goal, a desire to belong in a group of indefinable monsters somewhere in a yellow house in Providence.

After dipping our toes in the bloody pool of this sadistic killer's persona, the scene shifts to Birmingham, Ala., where Deacon Silvey and Chance Matthews, the primary characters in Kiernan's earlier novel, are married and expecting a child. Theirs is a most unconventional of partnerships: Chance is a learned paleontologist and Deacon is an unemployed recovering alcoholic and reluctant psychic. Against his wishes, Deacon finds himself being consulted by the local police on a series of recent murders. Not only can Deacon "see" the murders as they were committed, he in turn can be seen in those visions by the killer and is made to understand that she comes seeking him.

A strange man and teenaged girl only thicken the plot, for they come to Deacon in search of the woman they know is searching for him. Deacon is never sure whom to trust or believe, but he does know that his pregnant wife is in danger as long as this killer is on the loose. I have to admit I found several aspects of this novel confusing, and my enjoyment of the story was limited somewhat by the fact that I simply did not like a single character in these pages. Deacon is an inscrutable man, keeping secrets from the police, his wife and (when he can do it) himself, and he is constantly on the verge of giving up and retreating back into alcoholism. Toward the end of the novel, some of Deacon's actions and thoughts struck me as remarkable if not incomprehensible, further damaging the rather low opinion I already had of him. His wife Chance is far less complicated but even harder to like, constantly nagging Deacon about his involvement in psychic matters she puts no stock in. If there is love in this relationship, it is not easy to find.

As far as the plot goes, I feel as if I'm missing a few pieces to the puzzle. Narcissa Snow is a fascinating, truly disturbing murderess, yet her reasons for all the bad things she does never made complete sense to me, and one possible aspect of her identity felt completely out of place in the context of the novel. The conclusion, for its part, works pretty well, maintaining the darkness which seems to brood over the entire novel. The epilogue does not completely succeed in pulling together some of the disparate storylines of the preceding pages, but it does make an honest, appropriately subtle attempt.

Low Red Moon hung over my imagination like a death shroud, mimicking in some small way the effects of Deacon's constant migraines on his well-being. This is simply a dark tale that likes to skip rocks across the lake of hopelessness. A sense of gloom and doom is appropriate to the tale being told, but a cast of characters who do not, in my perception, share a single spark of life among them makes this otherwise compelling read something to be endured as well as enjoyed.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 10 October 2003

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