Tarn Richardson has chosen a suitably bloody setting for his debut horror novel. The Damned is set amid the barbed wire, trenches and ruined towns of the French front line in World #War One. The 1914 conflict had one boot in modern warfare and the other in hand-to-hand medieval combat. An early scene in the book finds a British soldier going over the top with a revolver in one hand and a mace in the other.


The real world carnage provides a suitable backdrop for those most violent of monsters, werewolves. The brutal setting also fits The Damned's dark-hearted hero, Poldek Tacit, who also seems to come from an earlier age. The hard-drinking Tacit is a member of the Catholic Inquisition which, in the novel's world, exists in secrecy to battle witches, demons, heretics and other enemies of the church.


Brutal


Like Jack Reacher in a dog collar, Tacit is a brutal dispenser of justice. He's not very likeable, but as the story flashes back and forth between current events and Tacit's life story, we see what made him the man he is.


Sister Isabella is introduced as sidekick to soften the big man's rough edges, and if she's a bit on the sexy side for a nun, it can perhaps be excused by the fact that she's also on an undercover mission to test Tacit's vow of celibacy.


Less believable is Isabella's modern day speech and manner. Her constant use of "okay" detracts from the sense of time and place, as does the author's jarring use of 'panties,' which doesn't sound like a WW1 term. But then, the novel is riddled with unnatural, exposition-heavy dialogue.


Tortured


A particularly annoying tic is to have characters constantly repeat, as questions, statements that are made to them. Sometimes they do it two or three times in succession, which makes the simplest conversations drag on interminably. Some of Richardson's prose is as tortured as Tacit's victims, and a one dimensional pantomime villain of a British officer adds to the book's low grade feel.


But hey, it's a horror yarn. If you want fine writing go read Wilfred Owen. In his gory field, Richardson falls a long way short of Stephen King for style and Shaun Hutson for verve. But as an undemanding read, The Damned packs enough incident to keep the pages turning.


The Damned's publisher, Duckworth Overlook, had enormous success with Max Brooks' multimillion-selling zombie story and 2013 Brad Pitt movie, World War Z. I'm not sure The Damned will make werewolves the new zombies. But to see if this novel is for you, you may want to try The Hunted, a 10,000-word prequel that can be downloaded as a free ebook as a taster for a promised Poldek Tacit trilogy.
#Fiction