Crude Sunlight by Philip Tucker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane is a grand and terrible building. Abandoned over forty years ago, there now sound, in rooms and halls where tortured screams once rung, only the tread of urban explorers as they marvel at its ruined grandeur.
Yet something still resides in its ancient depths.
When his younger brother goes missing Thomas Verkraft takes the opportunity to escape his imploding life in New York City and come to Buffalo to find him. Following a trail of black and white photographs, home made exploration videos, legends and rumors, he tracks Henry down to the doors of the State Asylum.
It's the last building Henry entered before he disappeared.
Accompanied by Julia, his younger brother's tormented ex-girlfriend, Thomas forces himself to walk the same downward spiral that claimed Henry.
But the hunger that Henry awoke has broken stronger men than Thomas, shattered their minds and consumed them whole in the darkness. What hope does Thomas have in the face of such ravening despair?
There is something satisfying in finding an author who can tap into the psyche of their protagonists and antagonists in such a way that you find yourself descending into the very realms of those characters minds. You experience their journey in a way that is visceral and satisfyingly so. In such a moodily dark setting as the one that author Philip Tucker has created for his debut novel, it becomes essential to experience rather than simply read.
In Crude Sunlight, Tucker's deliciously disturbing psychological thriller, there is a sense of dread and foreboding that draws you in right away. There is little to comfort you in the complex tableaux that unfolds and this is definitely one of the novels strengths. Tucker succeeds in the horror that he suggests rather than the horror he explicitly portrays. It makes for a more immersive reading experience because we will inevitably find our own imaginations fired by what we deduce from the plot points.
Comparisons to the likes of Silent Hill and The Ring have been made and I think Crude Sunlight stands well alongside those works in as much as Tucker has crafted a similar sort of texture in his writing style. Crude Sunlight is visually stimulating. There are descriptions of black and white, sound and light and texture that instantly remind one of the imagery inherent in those other works - yet Tuckers voice is resoundingly original and fresh.
Tucker's characters too, are well drawn and intriguing. The protagonist, Thomas, is a flawed anti-hero in the beginning, but he is also dogged and as his journey progresses he evolves into a subtle hero who realizes his purpose and becomes determined as a result. I was reminded a little of Rick Deckard - a similar sort of anti-hero from the movie Bladerunner. Like Deckard, Thomas is not immediately likeable, he is plagued by doubts and he flirts with failure often. Julia, the ex-girlfriend of Thomas' missing brother Henry, is also exceedingly well drawn as a conflicted and ambivalent counterpart who possesses a darkness that is revealed gradually.
Crude Sunlight is also a well crafted mystery using clues and red herrings well in keeping the reader guessing as well as invested. So much of what makes the novel work can be derived from this component. The pacing is tight, drawing upon tension and fear and propelling the story forward without laboring too long.
Crude Sunlight is a work that is satisfyingly disturbing and Philip Tucker has every reason to be proud of his debut.
About The Author:
Philip Tucker ascribes his love of writing to a teacher who once told his class, "Don't be a writer if you can stand to be anything else. Go be a carpenter, a business man, a firefighter, whatever. Get out of this gig while you still can".
Philip thought at the time that she was being overly harsh, but ten years down the road and hundreds of thousands of words later, he says that he realizes she was right.
The only reason Tucker writes today is because, in his words, nothing else has worked for him. Not being a mortgage broker on South Beach or a factory worker in Sydney. Brazilian born and British raised, Tucker says that he's since lost his accent, gained a unique world view due to his peripatetic upbringing, and has found that the only thing that regularly ignites his passion is sitting down at his laptop to write.
Philip has a portal at Facebook and you can also read about his exploits at his Amazon page.
View all my reviews