"Eight Cylinders" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Crystal Lake Publishing
Written by Jason Parent
2020, 83 pages, Fiction
Released on 13th November, 2020
I have enjoyed a fair bit of Jason Parent’s fiction, from What Hides Within (2012) and Victoria (2018), which both feature the spider Chester, to other high-quality monster thrillers, including They Feed (2018). Parent specialises in fast-paced, gory, crazy, and over-the-top short horror novels/novellas which confidently throw in elements of thriller and science fiction. Being a proud Scotsman, I even had a chuckle at Unseemly, which is a far-fetched yarn set on a remote Scottish island. When I read the blurb of Eight Cylinders, I expected more of the same super-cool mix of high-octane action but feel that this is sub-par compared with the usual output of this author. Perhaps the fact that the novella is a brief 83-pages prohibits more detail or depth being added to a story, which could have done with more layers than the rudimentary cartoon sketch we are given.
The action opens with a shoot-out just about to explode between the heavily armed gang of Charlie Ling and the main character Sebastian “Seb” McCalister and his partner Carlo Messina. Things are even worse than they seem, as Seb has in his possession the glass eye of Ling, which he snatched after a dodgy deal went south in the Las Vegas parking lot they are currently facing off in. A big mistake. Before long, everybody starts shooting and soon Seb is on the run, with the glass eye still in his possession. This opening action sequences is nicely handled, but considering the short page length of Eight Cylinders, this remains the only such scene until well into proceedings.
Whilst on the run out of Vegas, a wounded Seb has a surreal experience in which the eye of Ling, which he calls his ‘Magic 8 Ball’, guides him through the pain barrier and gives him directions. Considering he is wounded, he may well be hallucinating, but eventually wakes up in a tiny community in the middle of nowhere with no recollection how he ended up there. It is a desert location but surrounded by mountains, and the residents, a rag-tag bunch of down-and-outs, make it abundantly clear that he will not be able to leave. There is something in the mountains keeping them imprisoned in the enclave, but of course Seb must find out for himself before attempting to lead an escape in his supped-up Dodge Charger SRT.
Lots of other characters, who Seb meets at the shanty town, are thrown into the mix, but they are all so lightly drawn, they are barely worth mentioning, although some have obviously been trapped there for years. Seb is no better drawn; as a leading man he is too bland and although we are told he loves three things – his girlfriend, his partner Carlo and his car – this does not make him particularly endearing to the reader. I need characters I can believe in and get behind, not superficially drawn caricatures who have nothing interest to say, or even a funny wisecrack to keep the plot jogging along. By way of comparison with Parent’s other work, leading character Victoria Menard in Victoria (who has a spider in her brain) is funny, interesting, and quirky, everything Sebastian McCalister is not.
Various blurbs have mentioned “...a creature straight out of a Lovecraftian nightmare…”, which I would dispute. Does this statement mean whenever a book features a multi-tentacled creature, it automatically becomes Lovecraftian? I do not think so. This rather dull beast falls well short of those created by the horror legend HPL. I found these octopus style action sequences to be uninspiring and struggled to visualise how this multi-tentacled monster could so effectively menace the cars which tried to use the pass to escape the confines of the mountain prison. The monster uses “black goop” (not exactly an inspiring description) which can eat through anything and is nothing new. Along the way, the multi-car sequences are reminiscent of something you might catch in a Mad Max film. I do enjoy a good car chase, and when done well an exciting action sequence can leave the reader breathless; check out Grant Price’s By the Feet of Men for an unrelenting car and truck chase which is so good it will leave you sweating. This novella fails to nail the exhilaration and adrenalin a great chase sequence can provide.
I do wonder (as does the rest of the community) how Seb arrives within the interiors of the mountain range unmolested in the first place? This is partly answered in the ending, which on one level is quite fun, but on a second is totally ridiculous and rather a cop-out. Eight Cylinders finishes frustratingly for a sequel, no answers or reasoning is provided, and I doubt I will be returning for future instalments. Much is made of Seb’s car, which he thinks is very cool, but perhaps I would have enjoyed the book more if I were a driver myself. I have read enough of Jason Parent’s stuff to note that this is not up to his usual high standard, and if I was to make a car analogy, the story gets stuck in neutral and never leaves it. However, if you fancy a quick and easy read (with monsters) which is a very undemanding cartoon read, then Eight Cylinders might tick a few boxes and be decent company on a quiet evening.
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