'Silence of the Lambs' has got a lot to answer for; not only has it subjected me to one of my least favourite actors for the past twenty years (Hopkins), but also burned into my memory the image of a man standing naked in front of a mirror hiding his twig and berries from view! Add onto these crimes the influx of copycats that the book and film inspired and you can almost wish that it never existed. As a one off 'Lambs' was acceptable; a cheesy thriller masked behind faux intelligence. I can forgive one or two moments of hokum, but for a few years afterwards many areas of media, books in particular, tried to copy Thomas Harris' bestseller. All of a sudden thrillers were supposed to have intellectual subplots and characters that would think in a lyrical prose; these books would then descend into schlock thrills halfway. One such book that could fall into this category is Tim Willock's 'Blood Stained Kings' - is it a 'Lambs' rip off, or a good book in its own right?
Doctor Cicero Grimes has spent the last six months of his life locked in his house after a harrowing encounter with a man who tortured him. This man is now dead and when a letter arrives from beyond the grave Grimes finally stirs from his depression. In the letter is information on two briefcases full of blackmail material that the dead man hid with an innocent woman. Grimes is not the only person looking for these cases and must hurry is he is to save the young woman. Meanwhile Lenna Parillaud, an extremely rich woman, is about to have her life fall apart; she has illegally imprisoned her husband for over a decade and he has escaped. When Grimes and Lenna's paths collide they discover a mutual cause. Can they find the blackmailing evidence and the young woman before a killer does?
From page 1 'Kings' was not the easiest novel to follow. The book begins in italics and paints a poetic picture of a man fleeing through the woods. Willocks uses a strange tense and a sense of the unreal that makes it extremely hard to follow. However, these dreamlike sequences are few and far between so do not entirely confuse the reader. Willocks is able to tone down the pseudo intellectual style through most of the book and writes an effective thriller. In terms of narrative the book works well with the idea of a hidden prison holding up well. The dialogue and descriptions of the setting are vivid, only to be undone with the internal monologues of the characters.
Written some 6 years after 'Silence of the Lambs' I still feel that Willocks is an author deeply influenced by Harris. The entire plot is the same mix of supposed intelligence with a dark underbelly. The difference between Harris and Willocks is that the more successful author is able to convey the inner workings of his characters far better. Willocks at points produces an absolute mess. All the characters have deep seated problems that they muse upon internally. This means as a reader we are subjected to paragraphs of empty naval gazing and psychological mumbo jumbo. Throwing around tortured pasts is not a guarantee of mature themes and in fact can alienate a reader.
What adds more ammunition to the argument that Willocks has bitten off more than he can chew is that the book is rather silly. For all its pretentions of intelligence it is basically an action thriller. Moments of the book descend into the sloppiest of pulp fiction. Gone are the internal musings of dullards to be replaced with car chases, fights to the death and killer dogs. Separately, the two elements of intelligent crime thrills and exploitation work, together they jar. I enjoyed the action whilst it was happening; it had a dark malevolence that was fun to read. At one point the book did take a u-turn into sexual fantasy that was uncomfortable reading; the mixture of unpleasant imagery and sex may appeal to some, but not me : )
'Blood Stained Kings' is a book of its era; a mid 90s action crime thriller that is inspired by the films and novels of the time. The sense of pseudo intelligence, sadomasochism, professionalism and post-yuppie America all hark back to films such as 'Silence of the Lambs', 'Basic Instinct' etc. The fact that the book came out a few years later than these films suggests to me that as dated as it reads now, it was not hip on release. Hidden beneath some complex prose is a genuinely interesting crime book with some great ideas and a solid plot. The characters are forgettable and the violence on the cheesy side, but some of the core concepts are strong enough for the book to still be worth reading. One for people who have run out of crime fiction to read.
Author: Tim Willocks
Price: amazon uk - £10.98