3 out of 4 stars
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The Gatekeeper is a quirky paranormal thriller by Russ Kane. Nick Gold, the cynical host of TV show Nick Gold - Paranormal Detective, doesn't believe in the paranormal. That is, until nurse Joanne Walsh and TV producer Adam Farthing, quite unrelated, both claim to have seen a dead family member with a mouthful of sharpened teeth, like a shark, who then tried to kill them. When Nick's dead ex-wife Suzie appears in his hotel room with the same pointed fangs, it becomes even more difficult to deny the evidence before him. His research soon uncovers the disturbing fact that each attack corresponds to the alleged site of one of the "Gates of Hell" on Earth, where demons - and perhaps Lucifer himself - might seek to rise from their lower dominion and wreak havoc among humankind. Further unnerving him in his travels to these locations is the repeated appearance of a homeless man who isn't really a homeless man, and his talking dog, leading Nick to wonder just what in Hell is going on...
I chose this book based on the blurb, which suggested an author with an affinity for the paranormal and a similarly quirky, off-beat sense of humour to my own. I was not disappointed. In the Prologue, Kane described a broken-down car as "deader than Kevin Spacey's career." When the woman in the car sang along to the radio while her husband investigated the problem, the author wrote: "Loretta joined in the chorus. She was back in High School when Neil Young wasn’t Neil Old." Nick Gold also had some good self-deprecating humour in his inner monologue: "The waitress took their order and smiled delightfully. Did she recognize him? Did his black leather jacket give him a dangerous edge? You idiot...tip...she wants a tip, you dumb-arse." At another point, when Nick "began to scribble notes trying to marshal his thoughts," he listed down three points about crazy supernatural stuff that had happened so far, then wrote: "4. Buy more washing-up liquid." Moments like these startled frequent laughter from me throughout the book.
Kane's writing style was easy-to-read and the story was always entertaining. As someone fascinated and frightened by Hell and demons, I read on compulsively toward the end of the book. The Gatekeeper included some interesting theological history due to Nick Gold's background studying theology. It also featured a relevant quote from John Milton (most from Paradise Lost) at the beginning of each chapter. Kane did some ominous foreshadowing, too. One example was in his history of the Derweze crater in Turkmenistan, a massive fiery pit 230 feet wide and 65 feet deep, filled with natural gas, which had burned for almost half a century after a gas explosion during a drilling operation killed many workers. The chapter about this crater ended: "What might have been handy would have been if any of the team knew the meaning of Derweze, the location where they were drilling. Derweze means 'gate'. And some gates are best left shut." The Derweze crater is worth doing an online search for, too; the photographs are phenomenal.
A scene from Hell witnessed by Nick was frightening and sickening, reminiscent of scenes I will never forget from sci-fi/horror film Event Horizon, one of the scariest movies ever made. I really liked the way Kane was able to context-switch from humour to horror and back again; the funny moments made the story less dark, while the horror grounded it and gave it real weight. The author handled the growth of Nick Gold's character from a disbelieving paranormal TV presenter to a reluctant believer (and beyond) very well. I also enjoyed the love-hate relationship between Nick and savvy American attorney Lesley-Ann Trobe. Their interesting dynamic kept me guessing about where their relationship might lead.
There were several minor typographical errors throughout the book, mostly only missing punctuation. I found ten such errors in the first eighty pages. There were also sometimes missing line breaks in the verses from Milton at the beginning of the chapters. One unfortunate transposition error saw the Large Hadron Collider at Cerne mislabelled the "Large Hardon Collider." This may have been a typo...or perhaps the scientists at Cerne had just taken a very weird turn in their research...
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Gatekeeper by Russ Kane. With the errors in the manuscript fixed, I would be happy to award it 4 stars. For now, I must rate it 3 out of 4 stars. I found it a smart, funny, and frightening paranormal thriller with plenty of entertainment value. I think most readers of paranormal fiction would find something to enjoy in this book, especially if you also share the author's quirky sense of humour.
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