The Hides by Kealan Patrick Burke

The Hides is the second book in an unnamed series about a boy called Timmy Quinn. Timmy can see the dead. Immediately, everyone’s thinking this is a copycat of The Sixth Sense, but things are a little different in this tale. These dead are not angry spirits calling out for a living boy to avenge them; they are actual physical manifestations, right down to the smell of their rotting flesh. And they don’t need Timmy Quinn for anything. They are able to execute their revenge solo. Timmy is nothing more than a conduit; when he’s around, the dead are able to pass through something called The Curtain, a thing separating their world from ours. And Timmy is left with the terrifying task of stopping them.

Book two sees Timmy Quinn as a teenager, moving from his home in Ohio, America, to the small town of Dungarvan, Ireland (where the author himself grew up). It’s a chance to start again. But Timmy’s stateside girlfriend suggests, “Is there a rule over there that says the dead have to stay quiet?” Of course not. Timmy can never escape what he is. And the dead will always come knocking – or rather, crashing through. This is a story about dark family secrets, revenge, and a hideous monster. In comparison to the first novel in the series, The Turtle Boy, I have to say that I feel The Hides is the weaker of the two. It does contain a very startling and original creature in the closing chapters, but the story does unfortunately go into a bit of a lull halfway through. The Turtle Boy told the story of Timmy’s early boyhood, filling me with a sense of kinship and nostalgia, which was hard to beat. Sequels are always in the unenviable position of having to go one better than the first story, and unfortunately The Hides falls short of that ambition. I finished the book only mildly satisfied, with no real zeal for volume three.

The book is published in the USA by small press publisher Cemetery Dance, as a signed and numbered hardcover, limited to 750 copies. The Turtle Boy was similarly published by Necessary Evil Press, but with 450 copies. It’s a bit odd having a situation where 300 unlucky people have the opportunity to read volume two but not volume one. However, The Hides is marketed as a stand-alone novel, and the story does make sense independently. But it also makes numerous references to the first story, so there is definitely more enjoyment to be had if you are able to start at the very beginning.

On the matter of style, Kealan Burke is a bit of an enigma to me. His vocabulary is often rich, sometimes startlingly so, and yet his punctuation suffers on the most basic level of correct use of the comma. For example, a simple phrase like, “Hi Sandra” (on line 5 of the first page, no less) omits the necessary comma after “hi.” This kind of mistake is all over the place, and it has slipped through unnoticed by the publisher. This, as I have stated in the past, is what I call The Curse of the Small Publisher. Kealan, if you are reading this, get reading Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, because you are making yourself look like an amateur, and in every other respect you are not.

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The Turtle Boy by Kealan Patrick Burke

The Turtle Boy takes place in Delaware, Ohio, a small town with plenty of woods and undeveloped land – a young boy’s paradise. The boy in question is Timmy Quinn, who likes nothing better than to play outdoors with his best friend Pete. One summer’s day at Myers Pond, they encounter a strange boy called Darryl – a boy with dirty, torn clothes and hair that was shorn away in patches, and a smile like a row of ripped stitches. Odd in appearance and even odder in behaviour, Darryl enjoys feeding his own ankle to the turtles in the pond. Soon after this meeting, Pete’s father starts acting out of character, grounding Pete and telling Timmy to stay away from his son – for good. It’s clear Pete’s father has something to hide. There are terrible secrets in Delaware, Ohio, and the boy Darryl is determined to reveal them.

Kealan Burke, like myself, is a “new kid on the block” in the writing scene. Aside from numerous short story publications (many collected in a volume entitled Ravenous Ghosts), this is his first novel (to be technically correct, as it is a 100-pager, I should use the term novella). I always approach a newbie with some caution, because you’re never quite sure what you’ll get. But I am delighted to report that this man is clearly going places.

The first thing I noticed was Burke’s use of language. Here’s a prime example:

Though young, he could still remember his father carrying him on his shoulders through endless fields of gold, now replaced by the skeletons of houses awaiting skin.

When an author goes to the trouble of dressing up his prose with imaginative metaphors like that, you know you’re reading someone who cares deeply about the art of writing itself.

The next thing that struck me was his ability to portray child characters. Too often writers stumble at this, writing young characters with overly wise attitudes, but when I read about Timmy Quinn’s life I thought, “That’s it exactly!” The joy in outdoor pursuits, projecting your imagination onto your surroundings; the volatile nature of childhood friendship; the need for love from parents. It’s all there and it all rings true.

As for the story itself, it’s not particularly original, but it is still something of a page-turner, filled with mystery. I had hoped for a little more explanation than I got at the end, but any dissatisfaction is made for in the knowledge that this is the first tale in a series about Timmy Quinn. In fact, this is one of the rare occasions that I’ve wanted to re-read a novel only weeks after finishing it. The Turtle Boy is also, in my opinion, the right kind of horror story. In the horror genre, too much literature concerns itself with grossing out the reader or breaking taboos, losing sight of the proper goal: storytelling. No such mistakes here.

I don’t often comment on a book’s presenation, but in this case I’ll make an exception, in light of the effort that has been put into it. The Turtle Boy is an expensive book to buy, but is the most beautiful book on my shelf. Necessary Evil Press really did a good job. To cap it all, it’s a numbered edition of 450 copies, all signed by the author. I have no qualms about paying big money for this book, becuase these will be like gold dust in about ten years, by which time I would expect an awful lot more people to know the name Kealan Patrick Burke. Like I said, this man is going places.

In summary: perfect bed-time reading. During the week or so that it took to read The Turtle Boy, I really looked forward to curling up in bed for a short read before sleep – an experience that is too rare.