Keepers by Gary Braunbeck

(No Series)

Everything changed for Gil Stewart on the day he saw the old man die. Gil had witnessed the bizarre accident on the highway and stopped to help. The old man couldn't be saved, but just before he died, he clutched Gil's shirt and whispered a warning: "The Keepers are coming!"

That was when Gil's nightmare began. At first, he thought it was merely odd, a series of weird coincidences. Household pets started acting strangely. Zoo animals escaped. But now he can see a pattern emerging, a chilling reminder from a past that he can't -- or won't -- remember. As the true horror becomes clear, and terror builds upon terror, Gil can only await the coming of ... the Keepers.

There are some authors who have the knack for whipping up a horrific tale that is as confusing as it is interesting; others who write with a dark style that’s impossible to learn through schooling or practice, and still more writers with either the natural knack for scaring the socks off their readers or the food out of their stomachs. Braunbeck has already shown he possesses each of these talents, which seem to come to him effortlessly. When you read his words, they’re real, dark, brooding, and just…well, you’d never mistake the man for a romance novelist.

Keepers is a very different kind of book, clever in its originality, confusing in its clues and hints, and morbid with its premise. Braunbecks goal was to horrify, I’m sure; he succeeded. I’ve said it before in movie reviews, and I’ll say the same thing with books – when you involve animals, you can get some of the creepiest effects possible. I mean, brrrr. These natural creatures can be the most menacing things around! Braunbeck keeps the horror deceivingly subtle, not throwing scary antics right in the readers face, instead letting it seep in through the pores. Without debate, Braunbeck has an amazing knack at bringing the reader into areas of the mind were surreal horror lurks, mystifying while at the same time seducing.

The plot itself is just strange; I felt a few brain hemorrhages reading it. You never know what the hell is really going on, and amidst the creepy atmosphere, you can sympathize with the main character’s seemingly constant state of confusion. From the bizarre opening sequence of a man on the highway being chased by virile dogs, to the bizarre hospital laboratory experiments, to strange comic book scrawlings, it’s impossible to keep a clear, sane head. This is always a good thing with horror, as heightening this state and being able to tap into this part of the human brain can result in the best kind of horror out there.

There were flaws, though. For some reason I couldn’t stay as focused as I would have liked with the book. The flashbacks were the more interesting, while the modern times were peppered with lengthy memories and sometimes anemic messages. Being back in one time, then going in another, can almost be two different books. This method almost always works, but if enough detail of the past is given – that is not always relevant to the future – then the reader may end up caring more about what happened then, and get impatient when thrust back in the ‘now.’ The different modes I got into when reading a flashback vs. current event ended up slightly distracting.

The Keepers were an intriguing lot, but I didn’t know whether to find them threatening or friendly, depending on the circumstance. It’s almost as if the author himself wasn’t sure till the end. For brownie points, a speech made by an important character at the end, about the treatment of our senior citizens, forgotten animals, and deformed children was both memorable and heart-gripping.

Braunbecks’ other book I read, In Silent Graves, was excellent and just as dark, concentrating on children, this one on the world between people and animals. While I enjoyed the previous book more, this one stands as another haunting, lesson-enriched, disturbing horror novel begging to be grabbed and devoured.

Bram Stoker Award-nominated for Superior Achievement in the Novel, 2005