Here’s another debut novel, Pete Risley’s RABID CHILD, published by New Pulp Press, one of the excellent small presses that have been founded in recent years. RABID CHILD is about as bizarre as any crime novel you’re likely to read, starting with that creepily effective cover.
The protagonist of this novel is a young homeless man named Desmond Cray. Desmond is not a nice guy. He has a history of being a peeping tom and child molester, and as the novel opens is leading a squalid life, eating out of trash cans and sleeping wherever he can find a place. Then he runs into a former foster parent of his, Mrs. Honnecker, and allows himself to be persuaded to go back to her home with her. As with every noir novel – and RABID CHILD is about as noir as you can get – this seemingly innocent decision turns out to be a bad mistake.
Because Mrs. Honnecker is crazy, the crippled religious fanatic who lives with her as a boarder is even crazier, and her daughter, who has a sordid history with Desmond, may be the craziest and most dangerous of them all. Desmond, who’s really not that bad a fellow if you can get past that whole child molesting bit, finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble. He knows he should get away from them but can’t quite bring himself to do it. Inevitably, things spiral down to a violent, grotesque, unsettling climax.
You’ve got to admire Risley’s sheer guts for taking a character as unsympathetic as Desmond and making him the nominal hero of a novel. I’m not quite sure how he manages to pull that off, but he does. This is a fast-paced, nightmarish yarn with something to offend and/or disturb just about everybody. I’m not sure what to make of Risley. There’s very little information about him in the book, and the quality of the writing is good enough that it makes me suspect the name may be a pseudonym for an experienced, better-known author. At the same time, there’s a raw quality to RABID CHILD that really makes it seem like a first novel. Either way, this is a fine book that really kept me turning the pages, but I’m not going to recommend it for everybody. If you’ve read this far, you already know whether or not the subject matter bothers you so much you ought to avoid it. But if you want to read something that’s probably unlike anything you’ve read before, you ought to check it out.