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Midlisters / Kealan Patrick Burke

thl_9e328cbb57b95d5ce7830bd5f3697b-.jpgBiting Dog Press / August 2007
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand 

Kealan Patrick Burke knows what scares readers. The books and stories that form the foundation of his growing reputation run the gamut of vengeful spirits and murderous intent with a sharp eye for detail and a voice that is strong, yet still evolving.

With Midlisters, his new novella from Biting Dog Press, Burke shows he knows what scares writers, too. There’s the fear of fans who might take the work a little – or a lot – too seriously. There’s the fear of fading out as younger, edgier writers muscle their way onto the bestseller lists. Finally, there’s the fear that haunts everyone who puts pen to page, no matter how strong their sales stats might be: the fear that they just aren’t very good.

Protagonist Jason Tennant is facing all those fears and more as Midlisters opens. His marriage is on shaky ground, and he’s become increasingly bothered by the success of fellow author Kent Gray, who is known for a series of vapid “sex-fi” books. Tennant accepts a rare invitation to appear as “Guest of Honor” at a nearby genre convention, The New England Aurora Convention, mainly for the chance to confront Gray, whom he confesses inwardly he hates “because he was a better writer.”

On the way to the convention, Tennant experiences a blowout that leads to him giving convention-bound hitchhiker Walt a ride. Walt, it turns out, is a big Kent Gray fan, but he’s read Tennant, too. The duo parts ways at the convention, neither knowing they are destined to come together one last, bloody time.

With each new release, Burke’s grasp of mood, style, and story grows more confident. His depiction of the Aurora Convention, with its costume-clad fans and bemused guests of honor, expertly describes such affairs without lampooning them. And while the Tennant character is at times a bit too familiar – we’ve all read lots of tales about cynical, bordering-on-bitter writers – Kent Gray is a surprise, completely defying expectations the moment he steps into view.

Tennant’s confrontation with Gray, which the story builds to from the beginning, takes a different-than-expected direction, and leads us right into the book’s explosive climax. It’s a compliment to Burke that he’s able to take a handful of clichés – obsessive fans, professional jealousy, and murder – and twist them into a tale that feels fresh and new.

Jason Tennant’s greatest fear seems to be that he’s not a good writer. For all we know, it’s a fear shared by Kealan Patrick Burke. Somebody needs to let Burke know he’s got nothing to be afraid of.

Purchase Kealan Patrick Burke's Midlisters.

Posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2007 at 10:11AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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