Reviewed by: JA Gill
Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words
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Author James Melzer lives in Pennsylvania. He is the author of several other novels, all available for your e-reader.
Rita Clemens is leaving her post with the Philadelphia Police Department to start life over in a small town. She thought she’s seen it all, but even in a town where time slows down she discovers one secret as old as time itself.
There’s at least one Tumblr account and a few websites dedicated to collecting opening passages from novels. I’m a fan of these gatherings of words, and with hours spent sifting patterns emerge. “The sky above the port was the color of television, turned to a dead channel.” “I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey Michigan, in August of 1974.” “It was a pleasure to burn.” The opening sentences of a story are a summary, a tease, a throat-clearing, a stage-setter, and a quick measure of the author’s talent. So what to make of James Melzer’s latest work, Hull’s Landing, opening with an extended scene of a girl being gang raped? This is horror fiction after all, where delicacy and subtly run the other way, and Melzer wants to remind us incase we forgot.
The significance of the opening passage is the objectification of unadulterated evil—as if an Exhibit A tag would stick to its oily black surface—and a graphic scene of prolonged suffering, one that continues relentlessly for the majority of the book, is as unsettling a depiction as any. However, grand abstractions beg for archetypes, or at least a structure of metaphors, as cantilever over what might otherwise become a senseless plunge into depravity and gore. It is clear that Melzer is aware of this. Unfortunately, he comes up short in the telling. At Hull’s Landing divine reckoning has a habit of poofing onto the mise-en-scène in the form of a near literal deus ex machina—all bright and shiny—iterating a thoroughly unsatisfying Sunday school solution to the problem of evil.
Once one gets past the rickety plot and tired clichés, in James Melzer’s novella there is never a dull (read nonviolent) moment or lack of quirky descriptions, such as “he stopped cold, and the blood drained from his face like noodle water going through a strainer over the sink.” And “…Rita just about fell off the steps as it shook her on the inside like a rattlesnake in her belly.”
No significant issues
Rating: ** Two stars