Kim Newman: Jago

Kim Newman
Grafton paperback edition published 1992, 665 pages

OK, I know you are out there. You secret horror fans who won't admit to such a "mundane" reading level. You probably have Stephen King novels hidden away in closets in case somebody should see them and expose you for the lowlife that you are. It is interesting that the area of the genre which has the greatest public acceptance is treated as the lowest form by fandom. Well that's how it looks to me anyway - you can reflect on what that says about fans if you like. What all this has to do with Kim Newman's latest novel is up to you to decide.

Kim Newman has one other novel to his credit. Its a cyberpunk novel set in an electronic reality taken from old movies. Jago, his latest work, is so different from this that I had to check that there were not two Kim Newmans writing. But there is only one Newman, and this book is a horror novel. It has all the elements: a strange mystical character with peculiar powers (Jago) and his band of devoted followers, a small country town with a background to witchcraft and demon worship, an innocent young couple and some luckless locals who get trapped by all the weird goings-on.

The multi-threaded narrative follows a number of the players from all sides. We get inside the minds of the innocents, the brainwashed followers of Jago, the innocent child whose father turns into a homicidal tree, the stupid local police, the feral local and her ghostly boyfriend, the "nice" local boy and his werewolf brother, the punk roadie, the secret service psychic and many other colourful types. So many characters in fact you get an impression of this chaotic blur of people who are all being dragged towards an inevitable final conflict. This impression of chaos deliberately heightened by placing all the action during the lead-up to a rock festival being held in this (normally) quiet village. The festival is being organised by the followers of Jago - who said that rock 'n' roll wasn't the tool of the devil?

There is not much structure to the book. Basically you know something big is going to happen and you get to see all the little things that lead up to it. This approach is fraught with pitfalls, but the high speed changing of characters and Newmans high energy writing style turn the book into a real page-turner. The pace never diminishes, something is always waiting on the next page to take your interest. Basically were talking sex, violence, humour and general weirdness. This is not a subtle book, but it is very enjoyable.

Expect to be amused and entertained, but not scared. Horror novels are at their most chilling when the menace is hidden and seemingly all powerful. Neither is the case here. Personally I do not find this a problem, but it really depends on how you like to generate adrenaline.

This is a great summertime novel. Take it to the beach or the bush and use it to fill in any idle moments. It has another benefit, you can lend it to a non-SF reader and they won't complain that they do not read all that stuff (SF that is). Chances are that they will enjoy it so that you can hit them with a Dan Simmons or Greg Bear next time.

Overall rating: two roller coaster rides, a wild west show, candy floss and hot dogs on a hot sunday afternoon.