Written by: S.T. King
I wonder, reader, if you can smell the air of this place: high-rise apartment buildings and their black soot-covered windows, train-tracks pushing through tufts of thick green weeds and dense grass, broken roads of blackened asphalt covered in beer bottles and solo cups — syringes, cigarette butts, opened foam plates with chicken-bones and red globs of ketchup, the acrid odor of dew, flies, the dense silence of morning — and the sun rises slowly beyond the leaning rusted fences, like its afraid, reluctant to lift the darkness from the narrow and still alleyways. The night bid its leave and sink in the soil like it’d been bearing the full weight of the darkness, a blackness that hides secrets from the better parts of America: poverty, freedom, self-destruction.
I welcome you, reader, to Paradise.
There in a pale misty light from a lamp at the other end of the alley, Chapman could see the sneering face and walked to the other side of the pass. The derelict’s legs were stretched out in front of him and his feet were bare, chunks having been gnawed off by rodents in the night. Chapman gave him wide berth. He’d had enough to deal with from strangers tonight already. As he passed, those strange eyes glared at him and the face was suddenly so clear it transfixed his eyes. It was laughing a hearty, meat-filled laugh.
“You want to come over on this side boy?” It said.
“No,” Chapman said back to it.
“You will soon, boy. You will soon.”
Excerpt from Paradise Burns, by Marc Fitch.
In order for horror to work, to reach its tendrils over a society — if it’s to make you more wary of that drunk watching you pump gas (when, of course, you should be home, perhaps reading a book) – if it’s to make you look behind you as you walk, sticking to the faux safety of the street lights – it has to have societal context. It must let itself in at your front door. It must eat meatloaf and string-beans with you and your daughter — and she has such a bright future, doesn’t she? Such a swell ride ahead of her. And when she comes back from college she’ll be successful. She’ll settle in her dorm with her roommates, studious and artsy girls. Maybe she’ll screw a boy at a frat party. But no need to fret about that. She has good sense. And isn’t life beyond high school about experimentation, anyway?
Yes, it is, isn’t it?
Paradise Burns, written by Marc E. Fitch, puts the concept of evil under a microscope. Our hero (in the loosest sense or the word) is Rudy Patchiss. He’s an ex-cop turned private investigator. And on his sleeve is his own bleeding heart. He’s a hero to some; and to yet to others, little more than grime.
Rudy’s been hired to find Jennifer Acres, a college student who’s went missing. And he travels to the mountains near the Canadian border, to Parlor City. Within Parlor city is Paradise, a nightclub where she was known to perform (also in the loosest sense of the word). And he meets Stacy, a tattooed bartender.
Stacy’s life was different, tragic from the beginning with no expectation of anything more than tragedy. Therefore she was left free to wander in the burned out industrial complex that has become America. The thrift store was Saks Fifth Avenue for her, the tattoos the equivalent of a well manicured lawn and the biggest, nicest house in the neighborhood. She was a ghost wandering a graveyard world, an inverted place where drugs were the ticket to reality, starving was the normal, and the city was a place of infinite dimensions.
Excerpt from Paradise Burns, by Marc Fitch
If I told you, reader, that a work of horror and crime fiction could be existential, philosophical, even, would you humor me? Would you believe me, most gracious Reader? If I told you Fitch has crafted a tale that takes the concept of evil and breaks it two and then blurs the line between the pieces? Here lay your son, a monster under his bed, the wickedness of the unknown. And here’s a young sorority girl that sees black shadowy monsters when she blinks her eyes. And she lay on the dirty dance-floor of Paradise, as the tunes of an amateur band feed a curious energy, and she smiles – and she says words, but they don’t make any sense.
Horror lives on a continuum in Paradise Burns, between what is real and what is extraordinary, and a strong point in the read is the difficulty you’ll have making the distinction between the two. From the religious and existential overtones to Rudy’s own crippled personhood the story is a duality, feeding off the relativity of evil. The prose is easy to follow, ebbing along with rich and gritty imagery; the mood of Paradise is sour; and it smells of cheap beer and body odor — and the patch of tile behind the nightclub toilet. Fitch has sculpted his world with dirty clay; and from it stands fascinating gray stills that turn your stomach, yet won’t let go of your eyes.
Weaknesses, you ask? Sure — there’s a few I suppose I could note.
Rudy, strangely enough, starts out as a fairly layered character. But as we get deeper in the thick of his struggle his complexity flat-lines. It’s most unfortunate since we spend most of the story in his head, after all, watching as his train of thought becomes more basic and hackneyed. Maybe this is a result of the read in its entirety, as it seems unsure how deep it wants (or is able) to go with its moral exploration. It’s clear to me there was a bit of a “bottom” where perhaps the inner dialog ran dry, and we had to rely on other markers in the writers world to press us on.
Second are a few notable instances where the imagery seems oversaturated: where the details or metaphors feel excessive or inappropriate or vapid. It’s a slow unfold process where the subtly of Parlor City is ultimately abandoned as Fitch allows the monsters (loosey goosey this one too) out to play from their recesses. For me, it seems to weaken the atmosphere.
Really, it’s not so bad.
For even with its flaws I’m excited to read what Fitch has next to offer. The taste that stuck to my mouth after reading Paradise Burns was sweet and satisfying; it’d rush the palate of any reader who’s into monsters that wear the face of people you might know, might have known, or might know in the future.
About The Author: S.T. King is an aspiring novelist with a ravenous appetite for the dark, and an insatiable thirst for the ink of the fantastique. Currently he’s a mental health counselor, helping people purge the skeletons from their closets – though admittedly, he thinks it’s more fun putting them back in.