Friday, May 22, 2015

Terror and suspense on the road.

White Knuckle

By Eric Red

Publisher: Samhain Publisher

Pub. Date: June 2, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Eric Red’s White Knuckle is as high octane a horror thriller as they come. It is a cross between Silence of the Lambs and Richard Matheson’s Duel. It also bears a very slight resemblance to the 80s film, The Hitcher which was written by Eric Red as well as was one of my favorite vampire movies, Near Dark. Those two movies and this novel have something in common and that is they show that Red knows how to write dark and evil characters that jump out at you. If his psycho villains come out a little too super-human sometimes, it just revs up the suspense and gives us a little more worry and need to cheer on the hero or, in this case, the heroine.

Our heroine is FBI agent Sharon Ormsby who is assigned to the FBI’s Highway Serial Killing Initiative which tracks and hunts down murders on interstate highways. She comes across a pair of bodies that appear to be linked but, if so, it means that the killer has been active for over 30 years. In the meantime through alternating scenes, the reader discovers quickly that this is a trucker who uses the CB handle White Knuckle. He is abducting women and imprisoning them in his own torture chamber on wheels.

White Knuckle has the right amount of action, crime know-how, suspense, and terror to appeal to a number of genre readers. The FBI/CSI enthusiasts will get a lot of crime-fighter stuff. The author certainly know a lot about the trucking industry too. The suspense/thriller reader will not be disappointed with the tense writing and many taut action scenes. And the horror fans will find lots of scares, both psychological and physical. But it is the cat-and–mouse relationship between Sharon and White Knuckle that kept my interest. The character of White Knuckle is a larger than life serial killer; obsessed, thinks he is smarter than everyone else and just may be, and highly misogynistic. His killing of women is described by the author in a way that hides no facts about his villainy and frankly may be too much for some readers. Yet when Sharon, who is undercover and on the road with a veteran truck driver she had partnered up with, comes into contact with him we can feel the killer being both threatened and challenged by this woman. This is handled well by the author and only adds to the tension as Sharon builds her case and White Knuckle prepares for what he sees to be his final triumph. The final climatic scene is one of the best written action segments I have ever read on paper.

But it isn’t all perfect. That best action scene on paper sometimes comes across too well and feels like a send-up for a film. This is not necessarily a big problem but there are a number of times that some scenes felt too cinematic or too pat. Like the hitcher in the aforementioned film of the same name, the character of White Knuckle is often too “there” when he should be. Also, considering how detailed his descriptions of both FBI and truck driving is, there are some moments that stretch believability. For instance, it is hard to think that an agent that develops a sudden major disability would be kept in the field for such an important and dangerous manhunt. That almost lost me, to be blunt.

Yet overall, I have to admit that White Knuckle ends up as one of the most visceral and on-the-edge-of your-seat reading I have done in a long while. It never lets up. Red has an affinity not just for villains but for the victims which adds a lot of poignancy in the writing. Sharon Ormsby is a great protagonist with enough nerve and back story to make her easily likable. If this isn’t one of the best literary horror/action thrill rides of all time then it still easily goes to the top of the list for best action thrillers in 2015.

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