Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book Review: Rune

Book Review: 'Rune' by Christopher Fowler

4 / 5 Stars

‘Rune’ was first published in 1990; this Ballantine paperback edition (339 pp., cover artist unknown) was released in July, 1992.

Author Christopher Fowler is prolific, publishing novels and short story collections in the crime and horror / fantasy genres. Two of the supporting characters in ‘Rune’, the elderly detectives Arthur Bryant and John May, went on to become lead characters in the ‘Peculiar Crimes Unit’ series of novels, the tenth of which was released in 2012.

‘Rune’ is set in London in the early 90s. It’s Spring, and the city is shrouded in chilly temperatures and continuous rain. As the novel opens an aged executive, possessed by a deep and abiding terror, is running through the city streets. After a series of mishaps with traffic and passersby, he comes to a gruesome end.

The deceased man’s son, Harry Buckingham, is an advertising executive and very much the self-assured Modern British Man. Stunned by the sudden nature of his father’s passing, Harry questions those who witnessed his father’s strange behavior during his last moments. 

It emerges that Harry’s father is one of a number of businessmen who recently have killed themselves under violent, inexplicable circumstances. There is a common link to these suicides: the victims had in their possession scraps of paper marked with an unknown script.

Aided by a punk rock girl named Grace, Harry Buckingham embarks on an investigation of the strange script. It turns out that the script is comprised of runes: a prehistoric form of writing used in pagan religious rituals. To his alarm, Harry learns that with the proper visual cues, exposure to the runes can trigger super-realistic hallucinations in susceptible viewers.

Someone is marrying runes with modern videotape and broadcasting technologies……. and for a nefarious purpose. Will Harry and Grace act in time to discover the agents behind a scheme to brainwash British society into a new state of consumer compliance ? Or will they, too, fall victim to the terrifying power of the runes ?

‘Rune’ is an entertaining combination of the corporate thriller, horror, and cyberpunk genres, leavened with a healthy dose of satiric humor. Author Fowler does a good job of giving his narrative a sense of time, place, and culture for the London of the early 90s. The subplots support, rather than leach momentum from, the main narrative, and the novel features an interesting (but manageable) cast of characters.

‘Rune’ is recommended for those who appreciate a worthy effort at introducing occult horror into a modern sensibility.

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