Book Review: ‘Kin' by Kealan Patrick Burke


With Kin, Kealan Patrick Burke, long considered one of horror's best short story writers and editors, has delivered a book that should place him in the pantheon of its greatest novelists as well.

Reminiscent of the Jack Ketchum classic, Off Season, Kin begins where most horror stories end, with a survivor, beaten, bloody, within an inch of death, by the side of the road.  The survivor is Claire, a college-aged girl on vacation with a group of friends in Alabama.  She's escaped the Merrill clan, a cannibalistic family from the backwoods of Elkwood. 

A simple boy named Pete and his father find her there and rush her to the town's doctor.  He puts her back together physically (well, what he can, she's missing toes, fingers, an eye), but when he discovers who did this, the recovery is over, and it's up to Pete to get her out of Elkwood before the Merrill clan can track her down.

As the Merrill's sniff out Claire's trail, Finch, the brother of one of Claire's murdered friends, and Claire plot their revenge. 

Along with their friend, Beau, Finch, Claire, and Pete return to Elkwood looking for blood, but it won't be easy.  The Merrill's are ready, and their influence runs much deeper than any of them could possibly know.

Excellently plotted and drawn, Kin takes the reader where few novels or movies of this cannibal/slasher type do, inside the minds of both victims and victimizers.  Every character is realistic, believable, and fully explored, and it is this that separates Kin from the pack.  Burke's characterization and use of language throughout are breathtaking.  As a study of pain and tragedy and human resilience, Kin can only be compared to the very best of Jack Ketchum, but loosely.  Kin is Burke's book.  It takes his themes: family, regret, loss, that have been so prevalent in his many stories and novellas, such as the Timmy Quinn series and Currency of Souls, to a whole new level.

Using many subplots and flashbacks, Kin shows you the Merrills, Claire, Pete, Finch, and Beau for all that they are.  Each character is both good and bad.  There are no distinct lines.  The reader is left rooting for and against both sides.

This is not your typical hack and slash fare.  This is something more, something deeper.

If you're a fan of Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, or movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance, don't miss Kin.  Burke's novel not only re-imagines the classic slasher tropes, but it invents new ones.  Kin is sure to garner Burke a wider readership, awards, and to inspire a slew of new slasher novels and films. This is a modern classic, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Cemetery Dance Publications
ISBN: 978-1-58767-219-4
$40 Signed/Limited Hardcover