"Should Have Killed The Kid" Book Review
Written by R. Frederick Hamilton
2011, 300 pages, Fiction
Released on March 4th, 2011
Many talented authors choose to add to the existing mythos created by some of the biggest names in fiction. However, a very small number of writers has what it takes to create a narrative with its own mythology. R. Frederick Hamilton belongs to the second group. Last year, Hamilton made my Best of 2012 list with Spare Key, which contained a novella and two short stories. That book also made me seek out whatever else he had published. I got my hands on Should Have Killed The Kid, but decided to wait a bit before digging into it. Why? Because I'd read somewhere that the sequel would be arriving in 2013. When I finally read it, it was all I'd hope for and more. In fact, it was enough to cement Hamilton on my list as one of the best voices in contemporary horror.
Dave Thomas is locked in a skyscraper-turned-prison in Melbourne while the world outside crumbles. The apocalypse is roaring and shadows full of sharp talons are ripping people apart in the blink of an eye. However, Dave is haunted by something else: the guilt that comes from thinking he's to blame for all of it. Just before chaos arrived, he was enjoying some time by himself, drinking and thinking about the last fight with his girlfriend. Then he met a strange old man at the hotel he was staying at. Before long, he stumbled upon the very dark secret the old man was hiding, and that was the beginning of the end. Dave was offered a knife and given an order: kill a kid and keep the churning danger on the other side of the gate at bay. Unfortunately, he couldn't. The old man was obviously crazy, and the piles of rotting bodies offered proof of that. Dave decided to attack the geezer and ignore the apocalyptic nonsense he kept talking about. For a short time, Dave was a hero. Then the gate opened and death, destruction, and darkness took over. The clawed shadows have killed most of the population and Dave can't help thinking it's all his fault. He should have killed the boy. Now, with a female soldier, a child, and some supernatural help from the man he stopped from killing a child, Dave will get a second chance to do what he refused to do the first time around.
Should Have Killed The Kid is hard to categorize because it can easily be called horror, adventure, dark fantasy, or post-apocalyptic fiction. However, Hamilton engages with the best elements of each genre in a way that makes the narrative more powerful than the sum of all those parts. For example, there is magic being used to keep the killer shadows outside of our realm, which is something you'd find in a really dark fantasy, but the monsters being held back are older than mankind and had something to do with us being here, which gives the story a Lovecraftian tone. Despite the great mix, the best thing about Should Have Killed the Kid is that it's unique and packs the combination of gore, tension, and superb writing that makes Hamilton a must-read author.
Hamilton has a knack for gore, which he displays fully in Spare Key. Here, however, there's a lot more going on. Yes, there are bodies being torn to shreds, corpses tied to chairs, rotting piles of dead children, and the opening scenes in the crowded, prison-like skyscraper, are wonderfully gritty and violent, but the best horror in the narrative comes from Dave's oppressing guilt and the fact that an awful death is constantly at his and the group's tired, bloody feet. Surprisingly, the author somehow managed to add a touch of humor. For starters, the derisive way in which Sally, the soldier that escapes with Dave from the prison mayhem, treats Dave offers some comic relief. Likewise, Marge, the old woman whom comes to their rescue after the escape, has the mouth of a drunken sailor and an attitude to match.
Should Have Killed The Kid is a superb read and Hamilton is the kind of author who can pull off creating his own mythos. As this book comes to an end, John makes his appearance, and he's such a bad motherfucker that he makes all that came before him seem like a day in the park. But that's another story and it's all in another book. Now I'm starting to read John's World, the recently released sequel to Should Have Killed The Kid. Do yourself a favor and get both of them today.