"Black Rite" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Strong Horse Media
Written by Allen Caraway
2019, 308 pages, Fiction
Released on April 21st, 2019
While going through his dead brother Gary’s possessions, Bruce discovers that his sibling had some rather interesting hobbies, which included collecting grimoires and possible demon summoning. As Bruce travels further down the rabbit hole of the mystery of what his bro was involved in, he turns to Gary’s journal for answers and discovers the man was into far, far more evil things than he could have imagined, including murder and raising the dead. Sometimes you don’t even know your own blood.
My introduction to Allen Caraway’s work was in 2012 with To Evil Comes a Daughter, a delightful paranormal/mystery mashup. When I was offered his latest, Black Rite, to review, I immediately said yes on the memory of the enjoyment of To Evil Comes a Daughter alone.
Black Rite has a lot of great things going for it, the first of which is Caraway can set up a mean mystery. The story pulls you in almost immediately as you follow Bruce looking for clues on the real reason why he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire (hint: it’s because of a woman). Caraway gives you a town rich with characters and history, and really fleshes out the main characters so they are almost tangible. When Bruce falls for the same woman Gary was obsessed over, you don’t really question it. Even if the woman has been long dead and Gary died trying to resurrect her. But I digress.
Caraway is also quite adept at punching you in the stomach with some of the characters’ actions. For example, there comes a point in the book where Gary does something… well a few things truly despicable, and it gets you right in the feels. There’s a nice mix of emotions when these things go down that include rage, sorrow, and sympathy for Bruce and what he’s going through. Caraway does a phenomenal job dishing out just enough answers to keep you glued to the book… almost to the end.
Unfortunately, though, the reveal is a bit of a disappointment. For the duration up until the big showdown of good versus evil, things are on point. Players are moved into position, you are kept guessing on who is responsible for what, all the while growing closer to the main characters. Then, when the moment you have been waiting for finally happens, it’s all exposition told in flashback. All of it, because it has to be because the main antagonist is never introduced until the point they are revealed. And what makes it all the more frustrating, their story and how they came to be is just as fascinating because Caraway is that good of a writer. However, it doesn’t justify jamming a square into a circle.
Here’s the rub: the majority of the book is really good. The forced ending is also really good. But together they feel like two separate books. It’s almost as if Caraway had a novella and a short story and wanted to make a novel, so he mashed them together. Unfortunately, the end result hurts both. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were hints of the antagonist throughout; I don’t think I’d feel so let down. And to be fair, maybe there were hints, maybe I missed them, but I’d be a bit surprised because if that’s the case, I wouldn’t need pages of flashback to explain how this evil came to be.
Black Rite is bitter sweet. No matter how you look at it, at the end of the day it’s an engrossing read. Even though the ending could have been far better, that doesn’t make it bad, just out of place. And I tell you what, if Caraway ever decided to do a prequel on the antagonist at the end, I’d read the hell out of it because I’m already hooked on that story too. Since this is his second novel, I’m going to give it a pass because there is clearly talent behind the words. While I’m disappointed in how it all comes together, I’m far from upset that I read it. That should speak volumes in itself.
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