Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: AJ Kirby - Paint This Town Red

Time for another book review.

AJ Kirby’s Paint This Town Red came to my attention after it made the shortlist of The Guardian Books not-entirely-serious Not The Booker awards.  It surprised me because the synopsis was clearly of a horror novel and horror novels are normally greeted with the same enthusiasm as finding dog shit on an expensive shoe in literary circles.  I picked it up because it sounded interesting from the reader reviews: population cut off on an island, man-eating panthers and a shark that makes Jaws look like a minnow.

Those reader reviews—total bullshit.

The book is best described as if Stephen King went to Lindisfarne, where it’s wet, miserable and everyone has shit sex lives.  It wants to be a Koontz or King epic, but everybody’s a bit British and incompetent.  The source of supernatural evil is a bit crap.  It sends a shark (whoops, can’t swim on land), a sick panther (that doesn’t eat anyone) and a giant vulture that manages at best a score draw with a light aircraft.  Overall it’s more Fawlty Towers than The Overlook.

The Guardian's Sam Jordison gave the book a complete shellacking.

It’s not quite as bad as all that.  Despite the large cast of characters and extensive back story, it never felt a drag to read and I raced through it in a couple of days.  The book does have that important ‘page turner’ quality.  I also enjoyed how Kirby slowly revealed fragments of a past tragedy involving a mysterious doomsday cult through the recollections of his diverse cast.

Sadly, after an interesting setup, the book doesn’t maintain the early promise.  It doesn’t really come together.  The characters are well-drawn but remain static.  The supernatural threats turn out to be rather ineffectual and purposeless.  Eventually the book peters out in one of those annoying some-weird-shit-happens-and-that’s-it endings that are always a letdown.


  1. Admittedly this book doesn't sound good, but it could be that this author is a new writer. Typically writers don't always have a good start for a first book or whatever?

    Or is this author well established and this genre isn't their typical cup of tea?

    1. I think they've had a few books out. The problem was they used a fairly effective social media campaign to game themselves into the running in the Guardian's Not The Booker. It's not a 100% serious competition, but its aim is to find the best books of the year proper book awards might have missed. It was too much chutzpah on the part of the writer and their publisher. 2 of the 7 on the shortlist made the shortlists for the Costa award this year. In comparison this came out far short and was eviscerated by the critic.

      It does the Kingesque setup for an epic fairly well, but the author doesn't have the skill to tie all the threads together. It also has the usual problem for British novels in that they think the only way they can be proper and serious is to wallow in misery, which is way past cliche now. It wouldn't surprise me if Kirby clicks and puts out something really good in the future, but this one is flawed and ordinary.