After reading Gary Braunbeck’s 'Mr Hands, last year, I was pleased to see his latest book come through the door the other day. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places but, to me, bookshops in the UK always seem to stock ‘the usual suspects’ (King, Koontz etc) so it was good to see something from someone I hadn’t heard of before. ‘Coffin County’ is part of Braunbeck’s ongoing ‘Cedar Hill’ cycle and attempts to tie things together before the finale (in one or two book’s time, I can’t remember), I loved the story but am not too sure about how it ties some things up.
The town of Cedar Hill has always been home to small/large scale weirdness and terror but now things are starting to get worse. A spate of shocking murders grips the town but no-one is prepared for what lies behind these acts. The answers can be found in a similar set of killings, two hundred years ago, and an old abandoned grave yard…
‘Coffin County’ scared the life out of me, not just through the supernatural events but also through Braunbeck giving the reader a view into what goes on in people’s heads before they commit the kind of acts you will see in this book. There is some seriously bleak stuff going on in the background and the calm logical way that people come to their conclusions only adds to the horror of what they do. There are also other reminders that true horror lies in everyday life where grief over a loved one or domestic abuse can be more horrifying than the ‘monster in the shadows’. Talking of the ‘monster’, it was interesting to see who the protagonist finally turned out to be and their reasoning for doing what they did. However, while I could understand his motives, I couldn’t work out what it was about him that made other people suddenly decide to commit murder. I’m definitely going to re-read ‘Coffin County’ and see if things make a bit more sense! The background to all these happenings is stereotypical but very haunting at the same time. We’ve all seen scary stuff happen in a graveyard (or slum ridden back streets) but Braunbeck manages to make it worth the read anyway.
One thing that, slightly, spoilt it for me was that Braunbeck would sometimes ‘over explain’ what was happening on the police procedural side of things. I was far more interested in the horror aspect so found it a bit tiresome to have to plough through pages about the art of fingerprinting. Luckily, the rest of the book is good enough that this can be forgiven. I also wasn’t too sure about some attempts to link this book back with previous books in the cycle. I’m sure that things will make more sense when the cycle is done but having a page of ‘and this is how ‘Coffin County’ links to…’ felt a little contrived and like a concession to people who haven’t read all the books in the series. (And I’m still not sure if the link to ‘Mr Hands’ made any sense, I guess I’ll have to re-read that as well!)
In fairness though, the ‘good’ outweighs the ‘bad’ and ‘Coffin County’ makes for an entertaining and spooky read. There’s two more bonus tales as well; ‘I’ll play the blues for you’ is a solid tale of mankind’s right to music but it’s ‘Union Dues’ that really stands out and deserves to be a lot longer than it actually is.
I’d recommend ‘Coffin County’ to any fan of Gary Braunbeck and it’s well worth a go even if you’ve never read his stuff before.
Eight out of Ten