Written by: James Keen
“Someone from inside the building started screaming. It was a horrible sound, less that of a man than of a trapped animal, whimpering and afraid and screaming all at the same time.” -Inheritance.
‘Inheritance’ begins with a prologue set on a goat farm in Texas featuring Paul Henninger, an eighteen year old high school senior whose ambitions are curiously limited for a teenager. He wants to remain on the farm with his father, Martin “a lean and weathered man”, a stoic fellow with a profoundly sinister past. Paul’s mother we find has committed suicide some years before, a woman who evidently “battled with a double-barrelled curse of depression and anorexia for most of her life” but as McKinney unfurls his premise it becomes readily apparent that things are not as they seem here. “This is the world I have to give you” his father intones close to the prologue’s dramatic end where Paul finds himself helpless and terrified as Martin Henninger orchestrates a bewilderingly arcane and bloody ritual.
The text skips forward six years to the present revealing a sharp turn in the young man’s aspirations with Paul having given up on farm life, electing instead to become a policeman in nearby San Antonio, putting the odd and gruesome circumstances of his father’s fate behind him and marrying Rachel, a dentist’s secretary. While Paul is athletic, tall and eager to ingratiate himself into the busy police department it’s glaringly obvious that he’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to smarts, but his nubile young wife clearly dotes on him. It isn’t long before Henninger’s disturbing history resurfaces, threatening to annihilate all that he currently holds dear.
McKinney’s novel is a chiefly uneven experience and the faults in the narrative mainfest themselves when it becomes clear that the author has constructed a story that has both of its narrative ‘feet’ in disparate literary camps, with one area more persuasively realized than the other. The sections in the text dealing with Paul’s induction into the police department and his flailing struggles to be accepted as a valuable new trainee are the novel’s high points. McKinney’s unmistakably authentic and detailed research into police life on a daily basis is enlightening and gripping (though hardly surprising given the writer’s career background), and the author adds endearing character flourishes to the rookie’s repertoire and his more seasoned companion; Paul likes to do magic tricks with his talismanic Barber coin, his partner Mike is a demented speed-freak with their patrol car and a notoriously creative practical joker. And so it’s a shame that the more fantastical elements of McKinney’s horror story do not resonate as strongly in the mind. Towards the novel’s tense resolution it’s infuriatingly disappointing that McKinney over-eggs his horror recipe to the extent that the narrative becomes frankly ridiculous and prone to overly dramatic lazy clichés.
There are many things to admire in ‘Inheritance’; it has a deliciously creepy ‘massacre’ very early on in the story and McKinney keeps the narrative chugging along by switching narrative perspectives allowing for a much larger scope and feel. There’s blood-shed aplenty here, some horrific set-pieces and a commendable attempt to originate a relatively engaging mythology. The pay-off for the reader though is unsatisfying and as the novel wound down this reader found there were too many echoes of other horror classics from the past crowding out the story’s ‘voice’. At one point I almost expected a Dennis Wheatley nod (and that’s not a good thing).
Nominated for the prestigious Bram Stoker award, McKinney’s legion of fans will certainly lap this one up. For this reader though, while the book has its visceral and memorable moments, hopefully McKinney’s next effort will prove to be something more rewarding overall than this rather adequate offering and one that’s less plainly derivative.
Order this one right here.