Joseph Roy Wright set two books in the city of Runcorn. Book One, ‘The Skinners Incident’, opens with the alarming disappearance of a teenage boy. Kyle Cross, 16, has lived in the city of Runcorn all his life, his family is there, and so are his friends. He always texted his mother to let her know he was late, so when he fails giving news about his whereabouts, panic strikes immediately. The police is alerted and officers Sarah White, Michael Carr and Homicide Detective John Prescott are assigned to the case. What people don’t know is that Sarah has a special power since childhood: she can see the dead. If a person didn’t leave this world peacefully, they remain attached, even if their bodies are no more. Sarah’s gift was a great cause of pain and sufferance to her at the beginning, and it took a lot of therapy for her to learn how to live with it, but growing up she then decided to put this gift to a greater use and enter the police force. What began as a simple Missing Persons Case soon spirals into something darker, discovering a brutal homicide with a supernatural twist.
The city of Runcorn is not new to paranormal experiences. In fact, Book Two, ‘The Cult of Lucien’, describes events that took place in 1978, when the small, rural city was at the centre of another series of weird and spooky deaths. Lori Ripley, who had an accident as a child that left her dead for a few minutes, is now persecuted by three crow-like figures that want to offer her body to their master, Lucien, so he can return on this planet. Since it’s the Halloween weekend, no one really pays attention to the three weirdos, but their attitude and their manners soon raise suspicion and Lori becomes alerted to them too.
While the idea may not be the most original, execution is still fresh, and there is a lot of potential in both books. In the first one, for example, initially disjointed characters gradually get together, and the narrative reveals how and why they are connected. In the second one, the idea of cult followers so obsessed to go the extra mile in order to fulfil the desires of their Master is dreadful but, unfortunately, real (news often feature such stories). The paranormal/supernatural element is also well represented, in the form of a wealth of supernatural entities and paranormal activities, a sign of the fact that Wright does have a solid knowledge of haunted creatures and inexplicable phenomena.
Regrettably, both books have their faults too. The narration is fast – too fast – and kills the horror/scary momentum-building, necessary to really upset, scare and terrify readers. In places, the books barely differs from a personal, WIP book outline, the detailed synopsis that many authors use to jot every single scene before starting the slow and painful process of putting meat to the bones. There are many “technical” scenes, e.g. medical or police related, that don’t use the appropriate jargon nor sound credible, impacting negatively on the narration flow. Dialogues fall flat and descriptions are almost non existent, killing some of the basic rules of horror stories: verisimilitude, a good pace to turn the familiar into strange and a dip in the readers’ darkest fears. This is undoubtedly a shame, because with some extra TLC and no rush to publish these books could be very, very good, slightly more complex and perhaps have the potential to successfully tap into the huge market of mature, discerning audiences who like their horror stories.