Dual threats are a coveted commodity. Quarterbacks who are equally dangerous when running and passing get signed to big contracts; filmmakers who can both write and direct have a good shot at bringing their vision to audiences.
In 2004, Kealan Patrick Burke emerged as one of horror's most promising dual threats, an editor with a keen eye for good stories (and creative ways of packaging them), and a talented author with a knack for crafting chilling short stories.
His initial one-two punch came in the form of Taverns of the Dead, an anthology with the "I-can't-believe-I-didn't-think-of-this" premise of terrifying bar stories that attracted talents ranging from Ramsey Campbell to Neil Gaiman to Peter Straub. Close behind it came The Turtle Boy, a haunting novella of the supernatural that evoked the masters of quiet horror such as Chales L. Grant, and served as the kickoff to a series that has encompassed three more books with another, concluding novel still on the way.
Not a bad start; and yet, readers who encountered him from the beginning had no way of knowing that he was only going to get better.
Until recently, Burke's short stories were the best examples of his work. He consistently pops up in the table of contents of major anthologies and prominent genre magazines. There were longer works outside of the Timmy Quinn series begat by The Turtle Boy, but they didn't quite have the focus of those short stories or the Quinn books. You could see him getting closer with each effort, but it wasn't quite gelling.
And then Burke went away for awhile, forced off the road by the kinds of personal circumstances that can blindside any of us, at any time, and usually at the worst possible times. It brought his considerable momentum to a halt, and was surely twice as frustrating for the author it was for his eager and growing fan base.
Then 2011 came along, and Kin came along, and it was clear that the sabbatical had not pushed Burke two steps back; instead, he burst onto the scene again, creating another big stir with one of the best horror novels of the year and certainly the best of his (thankfully) revived career.
Kin is a story that picks up after a story many horror fans are familiar with: a group of friends gets blindsided in the rural south by a dangerous, bloodthirsty band of deranged, possibly inbred murderers who set upon them and do horrible things to them. One girl manages to escape and, with one of the psychos hot on her trail, is plucked from certain death by a passing stranger who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Usually, at that point it's lights up and roll the credits; the bad guy has been foiled, but lives to kill again, while the girl is left to pick up the shattered remains of her life and try and move on.
That's where a lot of stories leave off. But it's where Kin picks up. Burke takes us past the credits and into the story that lays beyond, following a girl who's been broken mentally and physically and is considering resorting to the unthinkable in a last, desperate attempt to make sense of what happened to her and her friends. It also follows the killer who let her get away, and the circumstances he has to endure for endangering the sick, sheltered life his family has built for itself in the forgotten shadows of Alabama.
Kin is a triumph, not only as an individual piece of work, but as the next step in a promising career. If you haven't heard of Burke before, you're going to soon enough. Below are a few suggestions for where to get started.
His website: http://kealanpatrickburke.com
His "Timmy Quinn" Series: Stage Whispers, the complete Timmy Quinn series to date (The Turtle Boy, The Hides, Vessels and Peregrine's Tale) collected in one affordable e-book (http://kealanpatrickburke.com/ebooks.html)
His latest novel: Kin, published by Cemetery Dance (http://www.cemeterydance.com/page/CDP/PROD/burke06)
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country (http://theoctobercountry.wordpress.com), and contributes interviews to the Horror World website (www.horrorworld.org). Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.