"In the Arms of Nightmares" Book Review
Written by Robert Dean
2012, 268 pages, Fiction
Released on March 21st, 2012
Narratives about psychotic cannibalistic killers are like playing Russian roulette with your time. Some are abysmally awful, most are mediocre, and only a few are outstanding. Robert Dean's In the Arms of Nightmares belongs to the last group. A cerebral mix of music, death, sex, booze, and a slow descent into absolute psychosis, In The Arms Of Nightmares is one of those rare novels that delivers a story full of brutality but with an elegant prose that never becomes boring.
Arthur Reilly spent some time in the trenches, and the things he witnessed and acts he committed there changed him forever. Arthur is functional and comes back from the war to study to be a chef, but in his mind there's something loose, something much worse than severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The world is an open book full of music, beautiful women, alcohol, and food, and he takes advantage of it all. However, none of it is enough. Arthur is a man who enjoys excess, and one of his excesses involves murder and later includes cannibalism. From the catacombs of Paris to a dirty diner in some remote corner of the southern United States, Arthur's insanity grows and makes him more erratic and dangerous. Ultimately, his passion for music, cooking, drinking, sex, and death will all melt into something murkier and infinitely more sadistic than he could have ever imagined, and that's only the start of his journey to an unknown place the voices in his head are telling him he must find.
When it comes to horror, lately I've found myself gravitating more toward punchy novellas full of action instead of long narratives with a literary flair. It's not that I don't like literary horror, just that I'm getting that somewhere else and turn to horror for fear, violence, action, monsters, and gore. Surprisingly, Dean does all of the above in this book. Sure, there's murder and mayhem, but there's also a lot of great writing, a solid back story, and a carefully-constructed narrative that presents important shifts in time and location while always managing to remain interesting.
At its core, In the Arms of Nightmares is a horror story about a man driven to insanity by war who eventually quits the life he worked hard to build and becomes a nomadic alcoholic cannibal. However, there are plenty of elements surrounding the narrative, and those are what make this a must-read. For starters, Dean fully explores desire through his character. Arthur likes what he likes, and he rationalizes his actions in very convincing ways. Also, the descriptive passages are great; complete and rich without being overwritten or dull. From the destruction of war to the swinging jazz clubs of France, Dean manages to place readers where he wants. Last but not least, Dean mixed horror, supernatural elements, and a bit of noir to create a story that has something for everyone (a particularly gruesome scene involving a jealous ex-boyfriend, a trailer, and a shotgun will stick with crime fiction fans for a while).
In the Arms of Nightmares showcases a talented writer at the top of his game. It packs a lot of booze, sex, and brutality, but there's also a bit of humor and writing that celebrates the music of legends like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong. If you want to read about a one-way ride to absolute madness with a side of human meat, pick this one up today.