I like Jasper Bark’s style. If the two pieces of short fiction in Run to Ground are prime examples, his writings are a deft combination of hardcore pulp fiction and moral tale. Clive Barker meets Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. Bark’s main characters in these two stories are not the most likeable characters. In fact, they are fairly repulsive, and they are both thrown into a fate that may be excessive but oh so delicious in a “eww, gross” sort of way.
Take the title story: the main character, Jim McLeod, is a man who makes a career out of running away from life, commitments, and responsibility. But when we meet him, he is doing a different kind of running away…from creatures in a cemetery that are devouring his friends. We are given flashbacks to help us understand how this horror came to our protagonist, and it isn’t pretty. When we get to the climax, we end up with a weird mixture of glee and angst. Bark may have developed an almost perfect blend of backstory in this short tale where past and present mixes together in the horror. The terror hits early and hard, yet the flashbacks do not slow it down — they make us more willing to meet the shock at the end.
The author isn’t happy with the usual monster chase. “Somehow it was possessing the soil, like a vengeful spirit, converting the earth to whatever it was, then releasing it as it moved alongside the path in pursuit of him.” Bark’s strength is in creating creatures we haven’t seen before and then making them as real as any other monsters that grace the pages of a horror novel. This is also true of the second story, “How the Dark Bleeds.” We are introduced to a questionably sane woman and find out more as the story continues. We are also thrown into a legend that gives us another strange and unique monster. Bark seems to excel in that strange sub-genre of body horror and he revels in it beautifully.
Both tales read fast and furious; they are nice examples of pulp horror and they deliver a big kick for the money. The author states they are part of a story cycle based on “The Qu’rm Saddic Heresy,” which he created. It is described as an “ancient blasphemy” and is also known as “the faith that comes before man” and “the oldest truth.” It adds a nice Lovecraftian tone to the fiction. There is even a short “scholarly” essay that gives more detail to the author-invented Heresy. It fooled me enough to google it!
I was pleasantly surprised by Jasper Bark. He is one of those writers that showed up out of the dark and dropped a little bomb into my knowledge of horror. He is the kind of writer that should get more recognition. Run to Ground should be enough for most readers to get hooked into his pulp horror world.
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