Berserk by Tim Lebbon.Review by Nickolas Cook
There's a reason why Lebbon's fan base has grown over the years. Mostly it's his respect for the genre, his solid crafting and ability to manipulate the readeróall of which he displays in his newest title from Leisure, Berserk. With this latest offering he may have gained the lead as the new master of horror.
Berserk is the thought-provoking story of Tom Roberts' quest for the truth about his son's death, a decade before, on a mysterious military base in the middle of nowhere. Fate has him overhear a conversation between two ex-military men (they kept monsters there!) and the story is off like a slick bullet of truth and obsession. Tom follows directions from one of the men, and in a desolate field, he uncovers a mass grave that blows his world apart.
It sounds like a simplistic plotóman discovers his son was part of a secret experiment that killed him, man digs (quite literally in this case) until he finds the truth, and then man is on the run from the keeper of secrets. This plot line has been used time and time again in cinema and in mass-market literature. But Berserk is a multi-layered tale of the inherent violence in man, of the familial bonds that sometimes hold us imprisoned after tragedy, and how past lies become present truth and a hopeful future. Lebbon makes us feel Tom Roberts' pain as he peels away one false layer of civilization after another; makes us empathize as his killer, Cole, discovers his own capacity for evil.
Lebbon does what he does best in Berserk by turning the tropes of horror on their ear. At times the tale becomes almost more fantastical than horrific, as his characters discover one shattering revelation after another. It's a werewolf novel with heart and soul, and many a new writer could learn something as Lebbon weaves in classic elements, and then blows it all away with his own special style of horror. He explores the basic meanings of love, obsession, and violence, and asks some powerful questions of his readers. In my opinion, this is what the best of the genre can, and should, do every time. Make the reader think. There should be emotional participation, and Lebbon makes this work very well.
There is only one scene that seemed to me to be out of place. That would be the sexual titillation between Lucy and Cole. It didn't fit, and brought the story to a bit of a halt for me. I am not sure why it was added, not sure what it was supposed to convey. But it is short, and as it does nothing for the story, it also doesn't detract too much from an otherwise spot-on tale.
Berserk's monsters are akin to Streiber's landmark beasts in Wolfen, but with more humanity. The author works to find an answer to the riddle of violence and death for which his monsters are responsible, and by the end of the novel, I can guarantee the concepts of evil and good will have twisted a bit for readers.
Tim Lebbon is building a one-man empire of stylistic horror tales within a genre that needs a shot of pure literary power. Admittedly, calling him the new master of horror is a pretty big claim, but this is a man who's been working toward the title from the beginning. He is the needle in the arm of the genre, and Berserk is a heck of an injection.
Nickolas Cook lives in the beautiful Southwestern desert with his wife and three pugs. He is the Fiction Moderator for the Shocklines Writing Group, the Chat Host for The Lost and The Damned Message Board and the Writers' Forum Moderator at ARWZ. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in several magazines. He collects jazz and blues, and is still trying to learn how to play the trumpet like his hero, Miles Davis. Visit Nickolas at his web site at The Horror and Jazz-Blues Review, his Myspace page, his blog, where you can read his free ongoing serial novella A Kind of Blue.