Complex, Heartfelt, a Sickly Noir That Horrifies with Everyday Banality
I am a woman of many vices, this I have accepted. One of my more nefarious foibles is a rather obsessive love of all things noir; the darker, seedier and more brutal the better. I am also a lover of horror, in all it’s terrifying forms. Anything which explores the seedy underbelly of humanity is sure to get my pulse racing and make me cackle maniacally with wicked glee. Add to that a southern gothic spin and I’m practically foaming at the mouth.
The tantalising tome in my grubby grasp this time satiates these dark desires. In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson, is published by Contraband, an imprint of Saraband, which publishes an eclectic range of crime, thriller and mystery writing. Eclectic is surely an apt description here for a tale described as an “atmospheric, cinematic tale of horror and psychological suspense” from a writer portrayed as the love child of Stephen King and James Lee Burke.
Born and raised in Arkansas, Davidson graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in 2004 and has published a range of stories online and in print including work published in Drunken Boat, Carve magazine and Santa Clara Review. He is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and Mystery Writers of America. This is his first novel.
“…a face floating behind the dirty glass, a face like a white sharp moon, framed between white sharp fingers. Red eyes like the ragged cherries of the cigarettes they smoked.”
The real question is how many lives he will destroy before his inevitable destruction
In the Valley of the Sun is at its sickly noir heart, a bone chattering horror; however, it is a complex, deeply heartfelt one, which grabs the reader in its frightful teeth and doesn’t let go. Davidson demonstrates an ability to conjure up monstrously lovely visions which thrill and seduce.
What makes In the Valley of the Sun so deliciously chilling is the everyday banality of the grisly events, a journey along a dusty, sun-baked highway leading to the quiet, every day stillness of a run-down motel, the seedy nights spent in honky tonks and the claustrophobic misery of living in a trailer filled with blood and nightmares. Following Travis Stillwell, a stoic, dark cowboy on a journey of slaying chaos, In the Valley of the Sun charts his gruesome exploits and his chance meeting with a monster hellbent on his acquisition.
Disappearing into the desert Travis’ dangerous new reality intersects with Annabelle, a widow with a young son trying to start again. Pursued by a battle-scarred Texas Ranger, desperate to capture the man violently attacking women across the Texan landscape, Travis’ time is running out. The real question is how many lives he will destroy before his inevitable destruction.
“I’m drowning in his troubles…A man’s dreams are hard on a woman too…”
The bone deep, tiring slog of being a woman tied for better or worse to a man is highlighted here by Davidson’s graphic, fetching style. It is impossible to escape the harsh reality of the subjugation and objectification of women defined by their relationships with men who use, abuse and abandon them.
All the women in Travis’s life, from his mother to the girl who shaped his grisly kink and those who fall prey to the fiend beneath the cowboy hat, exist only in as much as they feed his insatiable need. The exceptions to this are Annabelle and Rue, not hazy apparitions painted in brushstrokes of dreamy violence but tangible articles of flesh and blood. There is a sinister, greedy justice to be had as Travis, a man who has spent a lifetime preying on women, is hunted by a far greater power and left to feel the sickening thump of victimisation.
“I hate you, he thought, as she slept. You are not the thing I want, you are not the things I lost.”
Davidson has conjured up an enigmatic stranger, original and tantalising
Travis’ love is a horrible twisted thing, a beast of wicked machinations which moves as stealthily as a wolf, ready at any moment to strike at your throat. In Rue he more than meets his match, in her he finds an age-old predator, driven by blood and the will to survive. Forced into a painful reality of Rue’s making, Travis is a man hunted by authorities and haunted by his past.
Vivid, wince inducing prose illuminates everyday terror and horror which is insidiously bound with unbearable sadness and the grinding tedium of daily living in a world which has forgotten you. Davidson’s powerful evocation of the harsh landscape, alongside his use of sparse dialogue creates a wistful reverie punctured by garish splashes of gore and dread.
In the cultural wasteland of tragic vampire tales, so far removed from those nightmarish visions of yore, Davidson has conjured up an enigmatic stranger, original and tantalising, sure to tempt even the purest of heart into its ghoulish embrace.
In the Valley of the Sun is a grisly love note to the vampire genre and a cinematic masterpiece with moments of heart stopping horror and aching tenderness. Violence, bloodshed and macabre characters will keep even those hardened to the nightmares lurking in the dark awake deep into the night.
In the Valley of the Sun written by Andy Davidson, published by Contraband is available now.
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