moke, In Crimson
Greg F. Gifune
Cemetery Dance Publications (November 10, 2023)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers

Greg F. Gifune’s Smoke, In Crimson is a mesmerizing descent into the abyss by a man named Deacon, who is forced to venture where the shadows of addiction, remorse, and supernatural malevolence converge. This dark odyssey transcends conventional horror, intertwining psychological depth with cosmic terror to create an unsettling exploration of love, loss, and the macabre.

Deacon is recalled to his hometown, a small beach community, by Fay Dillon’s father after she has disappeared. To say that Fay is Deacon’s ex-girlfriend would be to do their past relationship an injustice. Fay is the great love of Deacon’s life, though they have been apart for several years at the opening of the novel. Fay, you see, helped initiate Deacon onto dark paths of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and much, much worse, and it took Deacon years to wean himself away from Fay’s influence. But now that she’s gone missing, all of that comes rushing back with a vengeance.

Deacon, a man haunted by a tumultuous past and ensnared by addictions that have left his life in ruins, stands as a compelling protagonist. Gifune delves into the intricacies of Deacon’s psyche, painting a portrait of a lost soul adrift in a sea of despair. The novel’s exploration of addiction, both to substances and to the enigmatic Fay Dillon, adds layers of complexity to Deacon’s character, making him a conduit for the deeper horrors that lurk within the narrative. This is not purely a work of psychological horror, though it is that as well; like most of Gifune’s work, the reader comes to the dawning realization that something supernatural is afoot here, and when the nature of that supernatural menace is revealed, it’s as rewarding as it is unexpected. Gifune masterfully weaves the threads of Deacon’s history with Fay, a darkly seductive figure, into the fabric of the narrative.

This is a novel about addiction: to substances, and Deacon and Fay surely are prisoners of their addictions to drugs and alcohol, as well as addictions to people—Deacon remains addicted to Fay, though he had tried to convince himself that he had broken free of her. Many of us have probably had a Fay in our lives at some point: a person we can’t seem to shake because of the hold they have over us, but who isn’t good for us. Here we see the dangers and harm that relationships like that can bring.

As the story unfurls, Deacon’s journey becomes a harrowing exploration of self-discovery and confronting the darkest aspects of his own nature. The revelation of Fay’s true identity and the inexorable link between past and present propel the narrative toward a climax that is both shocking and inevitable. Gifune’s skill in building tension and sustaining a sense of dread culminates in a denouement that leaves a lasting impact. The narrative’s setting, spanning from the bleak landscapes of Boston’s seamy underside to the haunting cottage on the dunes, serves as a visceral backdrop for the unfolding horrors. Gifune’s descriptive prowess creates an immersive atmosphere, drawing readers into the depraved realms of violence and supernatural malevolence. The author’s ability to evoke a sense of place enhances the overall intensity of the narrative. This book brought me back to the 1990s, and I mean that in a good way. It’s full of the brooding horror, rain, darkened alleys, squalor, blood, and angst that I came to love from that era, and dearly miss. So thank you, Greg.

Smoke, In Crimson is a tapestry of personal horror that captivates with its richly developed characters, evocative prose, and a narrative that defies genre conventions. Greg F. Gifune invites readers to traverse the harrowing landscapes of addiction, love, and, ultimately, supernatural horror, crafting a tale that resonates on a visceral and emotional level. This is not merely a horror story; it is a haunting exploration of the human condition in the face of unimaginable darkness.