My first experience with Paul Cooley’s work was a few years ago, when I read Closet Treats. That book managed to unsettle me, which is no easy feat, and I’ve been looking forward to another Cooley read since. Fast forward to a week ago, and Cooley’s announcement for the publication of The Black. I saw the cover and knew I had to read this one. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
Let’s get one semi-major gripe out of the way. The characters herein bled together at certain parts, and I had to backtrack a number of times to make sure I knew whose head I was in. The only easily-followed character for me was Shawna, and that’s only because she’s the only female in the book, so when Cooley writes, “She did this” or “She did that”, the fact that I was in her head was obvious. The huge cast of male characters seemed to become one collective consciousness over time. Add to this the fact that Cooley hops back and forth between referring to them by their first name and last name and you might be able to see why I was confused. For the longest time I thought Standlee and Catfish were two separate characters. Same with Thomas/Vraebel, Martin/Calhoun, and Steve/Gomez. I think I got those right, but even now I’m not sure. The various “red shirts” were equally confusing. All that is the only reason this wasn’t a five-star read for me.
Now on to the good parts, of which there are many. Cooley seems to know what he’s talking about when it comes to drilling for oil, deep-sea techniques, and laboratory goings-on. If he doesn’t, he sure as shit fooled me. The techno babble was never boring, and I was engaged throughout. He managed to make the science cool and interesting. Not once did I feel like Bill Nye was skullfucking me into submission with his brain boner. Kudos, Cooley. Very well done.
The deaths are varied and numerous, and should satiate gorehounds as well as fans of quiet horror. But, where Cooley really excels is subtlety. Certain scenes in The Black are damn ominous. I enjoyed the creepy bits like Shawna trapped in the lab and the omniscient AUV scenes a bit more than the balls-out splatterwork, but Cooley handles both with a unique flair. There were times I cringed, times I chewed my nails to the quick, and other times I could only sit there, jaw dangling, in outright shock. Make no mistake, this is a horror story, but it is also a double fine thriller.
The final bit I’ll mention is the end. Stephen King once wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” Thank you, Paul Cooley, for not explaining this creature into the ground. Some things are better left to the imagination.
Oh, and I almost forgot. I will never find the sound of bacon frying in a pan alluring ever again. Thanks, asshole.
In summation: Paul E. Cooley’s work is a necessity. Horror needs voices like his. The Black is surely not to be missed. So go on. Buy it. Stop fucking about.