Book Review: Black House Rocked by Paul Bingham and Emril Krestle

Black House Rocked by Paul Bingham and Emril Krestle

Black House Rocked by Paul Bingham and Emril Krestle

Hopeless Books bills Black House Rocked as a “literary split single.” It brings to mind pulp presses like Ace Books  that published double volumes of books with similar themes, like how the first edition of William S. Burroughs’ novel Junky was part of a double volume with Maurice Helbrant’s novel Narcotic Agent. In this case, it’s a short story by Emril Krestle called “Twilights” and a novella by Paul Bingham called “Save the Last Bullet for Me.” Both are dark tales about vampires (sort of). It seems obligatory to mention this, but Stephanie Meyer or Anne Rice these sure ain’t.

“Twilights” is about Salvatore, who was a knight who fought in the crusades before he was turned into a vampire. He becomes a bat, hunts for prey, avoids light and reflects on a wise giant he once knew.

Salvatore acclimates himself to his fate as an immortal blood drinker rather well. Even before he had turned, he was a sadistic bastard.

It made some of the other knights squeamish, but Salvatore, knowing it was absolutely necessary, wouldn’t have any of it. Life for his victims was an agony, and death a relief (a relief, yes).

“Twilights” isn’t plot driven, it’s more of an affective piece of writing. There is some great gothic writing here.

He feels himself choking–strobe lights on sweaty faces!–and ah, yes, how similar the moans of love to death itself.

A short, but very enjoyable piece. As far as I can tell, this is Krestle’s first publication and it’s a good indication he’s a writer to look out for.

“Twilights” seems like a big contrast to Bingham’s “Save the Last Bullet for Me,” which is an action filled southern gothic satire. The prose is also far more lean and hard boiled. Not to mention the “vampires” of this story are very different.

After Jackson Neill is falsely accused of raping two young boys and certain he’s going to prison, he decides to go down for something he knows he’s guilty of. He takes a job to assassinate a woman who killed her husband and got off on the murder charge, which is offered to him by the dead man’s father.

Meanwhile, at a trial of two men who raped and murdered a nine year old girl, a mysterious figure known as the Watcher shows up to observe the proceedings. Obviously unhappy with the way things are going, he takes out one of the killers’ SPLC appointed attorney.

Jackson, having come across the body of the girl the two murdered during his job and haunted by the sight, decides to kill the two pedophiles and then turn himself in. Before he has a chance to let the police take him, the Watcher kidnaps him for his own purposes.

Like in Bingham’s debut short story collection Down Where the Devil Don’t Go, his prose has a subtle intensity to it. Unadorned sentences that nonetheless create vivid scenes and images.

“When society kills somebody, they won’t necessarily die for years.”

Unlike the literal vampire of “Twilights,” Bingham’s vampires are more abstract. The Watcher’s name seems to be shout-out to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He leads Jackson and other troubled souls towards slaying the vampires of society. Criminals, lawyers and politicians.

Like his debut collection , his satire is vicious and hilarious. A scene where a  presidential candidate gives a speech is a perfect example.

“And if I am elected president, no more African-Americans will die in Iraq. That’s a promise I’m making; my message to you folks, out there.

We will boost recruitment of Asians and if necessary draft them. My wife has already drawn up an MRE cookbook for the troops which features more Oriental dishes.”

While mostly fast-paced and hard to put down, the novella does have a couple digressions that for me slowed things down. This is especially true for a scene where the Watcher visits a bizarre eBay storefront run by a pair of idiots. While it’s a funny moment, it seems out of tune with the rest of the story.

“O’Rourke tanned and let Edelman do the worrying. He’d been in prison too long to care.

Edelman hissed: “Hey listen, Ari, these skivers are comin’ in anytime and you’re sitting on your coolee ass.”

Despite such moments, this novella strongly reinforces my opinion that Paul Bingham is one of the best new writers out there.

Though there are surface differences between the two stories, there are other thematic connections beyond even just the vampires. Violence and its consequences run throughout both stories. Salvatore’s libertine propensity towards senseless bloodshed turns him subhuman. Jackson is driven to commit what he views as necessary violence, but finds himself conflicted and often feeling guilty. This is especially true with the murder contract he takes.

Strained relations with religion also plays into both stories. Salvatore, for example, claims he was doing good God’s work during the crusades.

“But he acknowledged secretly the truth: that he hated God, despised him. How better to something than to not pay it any mind at all?”

Jackson has faith in God and finds comfort in religion, despite his deep-seated problems that create tension with those convictions.

“From amidst the overripe bodies of a packed congregation, just as clear as day, that evening, the Lord had said unto him:

‘Son, if you don’t start up drinking again, you’re going to Hell.'”

Fans of more traditional vampire stories will probably gravitate more towards Krestle’s story than Bingham’s. Fans of noir-ish stories are going to really enjoy “Save the Last Bullet for Me.” Either way, I highly recommend this pair of nasty tales. Both of the works in Black House Rocked are incredibly well-crafted pieces of dark fiction by new authors.

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4c4iIXqDBen Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/

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