And Blood Did Fall
Chad A. Clark
If you’ve read many of my reviews before, you’ll know that I have a particular love of the titles released by Demain Publishing, as they’re one of the best Horror publishers that I’ve come across in all my years reviewing titles in the genre. They’ve achieved that distinction through a deeply impressive process of combining high-quality writing, distinct and artfully-composed covers by Adrian Baldwin and carefully-curated content that has started to expand beyond the boundaries of Horror into Crime, Science-Fiction and even works of poetry. Whatever the publisher releases is always an absolute joy to read and review, and one of the few pieces of good news I’ve had in the past few months was the announcement that another tranche of titles were due to be released by Demain in early September. They kindly sent me a host of review copies for me to read – and Chad A. Clark’s And Blood Did Fall seemed rather intriguing. Not only was there Adrian Baldwin’s usual vivid artwork, blood slowly seeping down the cover towards the title and author, but the back-cover blurb sounded interesting – a city full of dead-end citizens, a nightmarish serial killer, and only a single, world-weary detective in its way. I do like a good crime thriller, especially if it has horror elements, so I decided to see if blood would, indeed, fall.
And it certainly does – blood is one of the first things mentioned in the novella, and rapidly becomes clear that it’s one of the key facts of life in protagonist Kim’s job as a police detective. Whether it’s the maniac using a pair of shears to puncture his roommate’s body, or the hitchhiking serial killer slitting throats, blood falls onto every aspect of Kim’s professional life, to the point where it seems to be difficult to see anything else – apart from the paperwork that piles up, ever-present, endless and pointless. It’s a powerful opening to the novella, Clark doing a great job of setting up the core themes of the story and drawing you into the stifling, grim noir-like atmosphere that pervades the entire narrative. Barely pausing to lay out that efficient and effective opening, Clark then presents us with an incident that involves a mysterious explosion, loose body parts, and footprints that abruptly disappear mere feet away from the scene of the crime. At the same time, a man named Scott decides to take the investigation of his sister’s death into his own hands, tired of being fobbed off by the authorities; and a romantic encounter in a bar turns deadly for a lonely man and his unexpected date. Taken all together, these events serve to put Kim onto the path of an inhuman serial killer and force her to come closer and closer to the killer as it relentlessly claims more and more victims; as well as an explanation for the horrifying manner in which it kills, and some terrifying glimpses at its true nature.
As the body-count increases and the killings appear to be more and more impossible and incomprehensible, Clark makes it easy to empathise and sympathise with Kim’s world-weary, deeply sarcastic and often self-destructive attitude and behaviour given the number of things that start to rack up against her. From a partner who only turns up to take the credit and posture needlessly, offering nothing in the way of help, to abrasive crime scene technicians who are more than happy to rile up those they consider inferior, Clark deftly creates an atmosphere where the worst aspects of humanity float to the surface, like scum and oil on water; the bleak, soul-shattering nature of police work is deftly brought to the fore, becoming one more needless obstacle to Kim’s increasingly desperate attempts to bring down the serial killer. All of this takes place in an un-named city, one that becomes more like a surreal backdrop than an actual location; like a set of theatre-style backdrops that Kim finds herself running past, time and time again, as she worms her way through urban decay and sordid practices of her fellow citizens. The abandoned funfair in the middle of the city, where much of the action gravitates, is a perfect piece of symbolism devised by Clark: run-down, degraded and useless, yet impossible to ignore, it becomes emblematic of Kim’s struggle.
That struggle becomes more and more difficult and bewildering as the plot progresses, with Clark perfectly nailing that noir tone and atmosphere; there’s an inherent intensity to the narrative that Clark slowly but surely builds up that keeps you glued to the pages and reading to see what happens next, as Kim slowly spirals towards an ambiguous and carefully-orchestrated ending. I found myself staying up late at night just to try and get as many pages in as I could, and was genuinely floored by the clever twist in the plot that Clark throws in about two-thirds of the way through the novella. It’s impressive, and almost as impressive as the novella’s antagonist – that strange serial killer that is entirely alien in nature and action, which makes it all the more terrifying when it appears, or lurks in the shadows taunting and mocking Kim’s efforts. Clark imbues it with a deadly grace and fluidity that makes it truly memorable, as well as cloaked in a delightful sense of ambiguity as to its background and motivations. It is utterly, thoroughly monstrous in all senses of that phrase, and something to give the unwary reader nightmares for a long time to come; even I, the jaded and cynical horror review, had a distinct sense of unease by the time I had reached the end of the novella
And Blood Did Fall is a masterful piece of noir-drenched horror that deftly integrates crime and occult elements to create a novella that is truly unique and memorable. Clark has done an amazing job here, forging a compelling narrative and disturbingly evocative atmosphere in which to stage a desperate, often surreal hunt for a serial killer that rejects every feasible way to track it, capture it or even understand its true nature, all coupled with some fantastic twists and turns, and an antagonist that lurks in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading the novella. It’s another sublime publication from Demain Publishing, and I very much look forward to future collaborations between author and publisher.