You could be forgiven for thinking the horror genre has become complacent, lazy. The genre, as a whole, is lacking in many areas. In film, the genre is chock full of tame remakes, films that pilfer the original source material for inspiration, inspiration that ultimately falls flat because the original story isn’t meant for a modern audience. In books, the easy way out if to use the same, tired tropes – serial killers, bogeymen and, heaven forbid, vampires. Yes, the story is easy to write, but it doesn’t mean we want to see the same story over and over again. It’s boring and it isn’t exciting. Horror fans want something new, something fresh.
The Ancient Lawman is one such book. The premise is simple. We’re whisked back to 1656, to a time of violence and debauchery, where the mysterious entity of the title rules supreme. A silent behemoth with a mean streak, he knows when people are guilty and when they are innocent, a judge, jury and executioner with a lethal sixth sense if you will. After a particularly gruesome opening, which sets the story perfectly, we are transported to modern day USA. FBI agent Lucinda Ackerman is transporting a convict to death row when a terrible accident alters her course. During the incident, The Ancient Lawman is unleashed on the small town of Tinkerhill Falls and Ackerman, and her colleagues, must do anything to stop it…
First of all, let’s get something straight here. Chances are, you will root for the bad guy. The entity of the title is a modern day Michael Myers, a demonic, unstoppable force with no reservations, no feelings and no qualms about butchering the guilty. His job is to unleash justice on those deserving of it, and if anyone gets in the way…well, it gets messy. Much like Jason in his later movies, the character is a sight to behold and the victims matter not. However, don’t let this put you off, The Ancient Lawman has much more going for it.
Like many horrors, there’s a swathe of 2D characters littering these pages. Fine, it’s expected, Lawman has a job to do, cannon fodder is welcome, and offing too many characters we’ve invested in would be exhausting. What we do have though, are two solid main characters in Ackerman and the local sheriff, Elroy Williams. Noakes writes excellent female leads and Ackerman is no exception – tough, ballsy, a mean streak that would put Reacher or Bauer to shame. Williams is her foil, the local sheriff teamed with the experienced FBI woman, one that makes for a genuine relationship that forms an emotional story behind the violence and brutality.
Now, I’ve read the reviews and the main concern was an out of place sex scene, one that ruins the brief connection between the characters, very early on, and leaves a sense of awkwardness between the two. I do know the book underwent a rewrite and I can confirm this isn’t the case. Is it awkward? Yes, its the result of two like-minded individuals – in this case, lonely cops married to their careers – who invest in a night of passion. It was always going to be awkward, its how spontaneous sexual encounters work, but it’s this genuine feeling, this realistic playing field that immerses us in a story of desperation against the violent unknown. When the shit hits the fan, we’re right in the middle of it and we want the characters – characters we understand because we’ve been in their shoes – to survive. It’s a clever trick by Noakes, one that makes the story all the more interesting.
Then there’s the violence. Glorious! Noakes has a descriptive knack to his death scenes, one that was ever present during his other horror novel, Hourglass Heights – the review can be located earlier in my blog. Some authors tend to splash the blood without artistic merit or thought. Noakes does this in style, each death a mini set-piece, one that separates the story with effortless execution. Are some over the top? Sure, but when were Jason and Michael ever cautious about their kills. The Ancient Lawman simply follows in their shoes and in the process, Noakes has invented a literary bogeyman, one that could work in multiple sequels – think different times in history. Lawman vs. Hitler anyone?
To summarise, it’s not for everyone. Some individuals are throw away and at times, the jumping between multiple characters will grate on your patience. However, persevere and you will be rewarded with a genuinely frightening horror story, a book balanced correctly between 80’s B- Movie homage and lean, thrilling horror lore. The Ancient Lawman is a rarity in literature, a horror novel that plays out like a movie in your head and provides addictive words on the page. Noakes has followed up Hourglass Heights with another phenomenal effort. If more horror stories had balls to be this brave, this unorthodox…well, reading would become exciting and unpredictable again.