Part horror story, part thrilling road adventure, part historical drama, Before is a novel like no other. Described as “the dark fantasy version of Cloud Atlas,” Kane’s Before is as wide in scope as it is in imagination as it tackles the greatest questions haunting mankind-Who are we? Why are we here? And where are we going?
In 1970s Germany, a mental patient at the end of his life suddenly speaks for the first time in years. A year later in Vietnam, a mission to rescue a group of American POWs becomes a military disaster.
In present day England, the birthday of college lecturer Alex Webber sends his life spiralling out of control as a series of disturbing hallucinations lead him to the office of Dr. Ellen Hayward. And things will never be the same again for either of them. Hunted by an immortal being known only as The Infinity, their capture could mean the end of humanity itself…
One of the first things I read about Before was Paul Kane himself calling his latest novel his The Great And Secret Show. Now that’s some claim! Clive Barker is one of my favourite authors, with The Great and Secret Show being a true epic within his bibliography. This not only shows Kane’s confidence in his new 491 page tome but it also sets a level of expectation for any prospective reader.
Before is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure story with horror/supernatural elements. Although not as eloquent as Barker, Kane’s prose is incredibly effective . I particularly enjoyed the Cambodian Village chapters, full of believable characters and well written action set pieces. It was also here that I noticed my first real nod to Barker, a sequence of events made me think of the attic at 55 Ludovico Place. (I won’t be more specific as I hate to post spoilers, but once you read it I’m sure you’ll agree.)
Alex Webber is a believable lead and plays off well against Ellen his psychiatrist. I did find the love triangle a tad melodramatic with too much attention paid to Beverley, Alex’s ex-wife. My main issue with Before is the criminal underuse of The Infinity, a fantastic creation. I loved it anytime he was on the page, which wasn’t anywhere near enough sadly. I thoroughly enjoyed his dialogue and the way he interacted with his minions. To counter that though, Kane really shone with Lucas Peck, a nasty piece of work that has a unique talent. Peck is The Infinity’s sadistic sidekick, and with his skills, I’m not sure if there isn’t a touch of the Cenobite about him. And don’t get me started on what he does with some flowers!
Paul Kane can certainly tell a story! To be able to keep the reader engaged across multiple settings, eras and genre can only be classed as a triumph. Before mixes action adventure, horror and the supernatural skillfully. I burned through nigh on 500 pages in only a few days. Before may not have been as epic a story as I was expecting, but it was a fast paced enjoyable read that kept me hooked till its thrilling conclusion.
Star Rating (out of 5): 4****