Upon picking up Bryan Smith’s latest Leisure release, I expected the oft-trodden path of innocent folks blundering into the backwoods and falling foul of snaggle-toothed hillbillies. But I discovered very early on that Depraved also has plenty of tricks up its filthy little sleeve.
Centred around the isolated town of Hopkin’s Bend, the hideous inhabitants are preparing for their annual holiday feast, and no prizes for guessing what, or who, is on the menu.
This book has all the genetic mutation, cannibalism, murder, dismemberment, rape and torture that you could hope for, but the impressive bodycount doesn’t stifle a dark sense of humour. The story itself moves at a breathtaking rate. Within minutes of the off, the main characters are all in terrible jeopardy or running for their lives, and it’s very much to Bryan’s credit that I cared, despite having only just met them.
It’s also an extremely visual read – colourful and evocative – as we travel from the dirty, forest shacks and their inbreeding families, to the grim, sound-proofed rooms and glistening flesh of the town’s strip-joint. The Sin Den is an inspired creation, a horrific and lurid gem; think Porky’s meets 8mm.
Like much of Richard Laymon’s work, Depraved strikes upon how normal people, in certain circumstances, are capable of extreme violence and will even stoop to unnecessary atrocity. The transformation of the protagonists did seem to occur a little too quickly here, although I suppose the hook is that we’re all only a gentle push from savagery. However, I prefer this possibility insinuated, and at times the story explains it too clearly. But overall, this is a minor gripe.
The second half is an assault, and never stops twisting as we discover more about Hopkin’s Bend and the corruption, sex slavery and ancient evil in which it is steeped. Yes, there’s a good old-fashioned curse. I found this supernatural angle less interesting at first, but its execution and resolution is fiendish, and it also delivers a snippet of extreme bizarro so debauched that I didn’t know whether to laugh or put the book down in disgust. I suspect that either reaction would have pleased the author.
This book is a genuine page-turner, an overused phrase I don’t particularly like to apply, but one that is too appropriate in this case. There are truly gripping moments and Bryan is a master of edge-of-your-seat chases and escape attempts. It’s also been a while since I’ve read a novel epilogue so satisfying, and I put the book down with a low, slightly nasty chuckle.
Depraved is noisy, sick, and certainly not for all, but if it sounds like your cup of blood, then get ready to clink glasses with the devil. You’re going to have fun.