Paul Kane’s novel Before tells the story of college lecturer Alex Webber’s encounters with mysterious and evil forces, crazed killers, benevolent psychiatrists and a vicious bunch of gangland criminals. With all this in place, it’s a book that could have been a confusing mess; in this author’s capable hands, it’s a gripping and relentless story, one that will have readers relishing every page.
It all kicks off in the 1970’s, with scenes in a European psychiatric hospital followed by a military mission in the jungles of the Far East. Kane introduces an array of characters here and although it’s unclear who, if any, will survive, they’re visualised in such a way that we care for them all; however ‘disposable’ these soldiers are, the author gives them equal worth, ensuring none of them are sold short. Kane’s characterisation is like this throughout the book, so much so that it drives the plot, as Alex’s actions force differing reactions from the assortment of antagonists who draw closer as the book progresses, breathing down his neck for much of the final third.
It’s this that makes the book such a compelling read. It’s hard not to ask ourselves what we would do in Alex’s shoes and, if some of his responses feel like a leap of faith, they’re at least in keeping with the character. Exposed to all that’s going on around him, he comes perilously close to losing himself, and it’s easy to imagine being in the same situation by some cruel design. The action is supplemented with horror elements that often come as a shock, with levels of gore that may turn a few stomachs, although Kane handles these extremely well, revealing just enough for the reader’s own imagination to fill in any blanks.
Before is packed with action and, despite the fast pace, allows for moments of genuine emotion; Kane’s heart-on-sleeve prose is always refreshing, an ideal read for those who like their blockbuster thrillers peppered with unnerving mysticism and lively realistic characters. Alex Webber is no action hero in the manner of Jack Reacher, just an ordinary man in highly exceptional circumstances, but this ambitious story is certainly worthy of the same levels of audience.
BEFORE / AUTHOR: PAUL KANE / PUBLISHER: GREY MATTER PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW