8 Mar 2009

Book Review: Castaways, Brian Keene

I am quite familiar with Brian Keene’s work, having read The Rising, City of the Dead, Ghoul, and Dead Sea. He is a prolific writer with an aptitude for fast-paced horror thrillers that grab and don’t let go. So when I read the blurb of his latest offering—monstrous half-human creatures start killing a bunch of reality show contestants on a supposedly deserted island—I immediately ordered it, and got to reading. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything so bad I wanted not only to close the book but to inflict actual physical damage to it. Castaways took me there. I suspect Mr Keene, an author I have come to admire, had a particularly tight deadline or an unexpected bill to pay or please some other good reason for allowing this substandard effort to be published.

So what’s wrong with it?

It’s lazy. Despite what many reviews would have you believe, it’s not scary, nor is it well written. That’s not strictly true. There are some scenes in the second half of the book that are mildly disturbing. The characters are, without exception, stereotypes that constantly spout laughable dialogue and react in ridiculous ways. Description is sparse (Richard Laymon style, yes, I get it) but completely flat and uninspired, meaning trees are trees and the wind is always “howling.” As for the supposedly terrifying creatures? Read this:

One of them looked horribly deformed. Its bulbous head seemed overly large, like a melon. A few others had obvious deformities as well.

Is it me or is the image of a melon not frightening? And how about providing the reader with some specific deformities? It’s this kind of clumsy, lazy, insipid writing that destroys the impact of every scene early on, so that by the time things improve (marginally) in the second half, this reader couldn’t care less.

I wholeheartedly recommend you give Castaways a wide berth, at least until you have sampled Keene’s other, stronger work (such as those mentioned in the first paragraph, particularly The Rising). At least then you might have it in your heart to forgive him this half-assed effort. 3/10.

4 comments:

Brian G Ross said...

That's quite an underwhelmin' review! I have never read Keene, and I respect your opinion enough to knock this one back a few slots on the readin' list.

Ian said...

Interesting; that mutants-killing-reality-show-contestants was a subplot in Clive Cussler's "Lost City" (and yes, I'm embarrassed to know that, but it's a fun read), written in 2004. Which came first?

My Mother Was A Trekkie! said...

You can always depend on Brian Keene for errors in syntax and sentence structure, or low attention span churn without even a singular element of literary refinement to entertain the masses. I can't believe the man actually has a publisher. When I picked it up in B&N, I immediately assumed it to be a rehash off of the series LOST and SURVIVOR. And yeah, it felt very thin compared to some of his previous works. A book like this does something like GHOUL a grave injustice.

Steven J. Dines said...

Brian - Don't let me put you off giving his work a try someday. But check out his other novels first.

Ian - I believe Castaways was based on an earlier story of Keene's, but I couldn't tell you precisely when that was written.

My Mother Was a Trekkie - Thanks for dropping by. You can't get it right every time, can you? For me, this was his first major misfire. It happens. But it can seriously damage a career if it KEEPS happening.