REVIEW: Fossil Circus by John Kaiine. Lewis Carroll directs Silence of the Lambs

Storm Constantine is reprinting John Kaiine’s horror novel Fossil Circus via her Immanion Press.  I reviewed it when it first came out in 2005. Kaiine is an artist as well as a novelist–and the husband of Tanith Lee.

Four former psychiatric patients are given a palatial, ruinous asylum by their kind, eccentric doctor in her will. The troupe of misfits includes Ernie, a grown man mentally flash-frozen at the age of six; the misanthropic (and therefore misogynist, and racist) cripple Mr. Jackson; the Byronic necrophiliac Roane; and the flatulent, hapless Norman. The four men move in together, and settle into a dysfunctional family unit. The house has its own history, and affects all who live there-particularly Roane, who is prone to psychic frequencies. Meanwhile, a serial killer, Jerusalem Lamb, cuts a bloody path across London, drawn to the strange, almost supernatural pull of the former asylum.

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Kaiine’s debut alternates between sick comedy (think John Waters meets Erasehead-era David Lynch) and warped horror (Lamb is as chilling and surreal as Hannibal Lechter). Norman and Ernie form a kind of Pooh and Piglet friendship, and get trapped in all sorts of odd, comic situations. Nasty Mr. Jackson’s foul proclamations are only matched by those of his pet parrot, Maudsley. And Roane wanders the weird asylum, a tortured Theseus in a labyrinth. Lamb, meanwhile, moves through London’s underground, mired in murk and gore.

All of this is written in a pun-filled, present tense poetic prose. The inventive language, shot out with rapid-fire wit, draws the reader into these strange characters’ mindscapes. It’s as if Monty Python decided to produce Peake’s Gormenghast. Other times, it’s Lewis Carroll’s version of Silence of the Lambs. Kaiine has a strong grasp of dialog and dialect, and a love of the surreal. There’s nothing quite like it. The closest reference is (American) southern horror writer Caitlin Kiernan, with a dash of Vonnegut.

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