Long before Nicolas Winding Refn made his modern masterpiece Drive, Walter Hill – at the peak of his form and not long before making one of the best westerns ever The Long Riders - directed The Driver, both films having as their protagonist, getaway drivers. In both, the character was unnamed, referred to only as “Driver” and “The Driver” respectively and it’s a similar scenario with the protagonist in Gary McMahon’s latest novella courtesy of DarkFuse, Reaping the Dark which tells of Driver Z, given an opportunity to escape his life of crime when the proceeds of a heist gone wrong fall into his possession.
We do find out Driver Z’s name – it’s Clarke – and also that he lives his life by a strict code of rules, with precise instructions given to the people he works with which, along with maintaining a distance between parties courtesy of a go-between and his anonymity, ensure his safety.
Here is a man in full control of his life, taking charge of his own destiny.
The ethos he lives by is “never buy anything you can’t leave behind” which echoes that of Neil McCauley, played by Robert De Niro in Michael Mann’s brilliant crime epic Heat. In that film, De Niro had Al Pacino’s Vincent Hanna chasing him down whilst The Driver’s Ryan O’Neal was pursued by Bruce Dern. What’s after Clarke, however, is a lot worse – a demonic entity called a Reaper, the summoning of which makes up the story’s prologue; the heist which presents the opportunity of escape to Clarke and his pregnant girlfriend Martha has gone down at a building owned by the Order of the Dark Veil, a cult of devil worshippers…
What follows is a highly effective blend of crime/siege/horror story written, much to my delight, in present tense thereby adding a sense of urgency and immediacy to proceedings.
It’s a taut story which creates a palpable sense of tension as Clarke, Martha and the psychotic McKenzie (the other survivor of the heist) evading and taking refuge from the Reaper in a warehouse. It’s the supernatural elements that take precedence at the story’s conclusion though, in which the true nature of the Reaper is revealed.
There’s plenty horror here, visceral – as displayed in the showdown with the Reaper but also, and more profoundly, an existential horror as the author repeatedly pulls the rug from under your feet with a series of revelations that turn Clarke’s world upside down.
Reaping the Dark is a short but tense read that effortlessly blends the more esoteric elements into a skilfully created and authentic reality. It’s available from DarkFuse in May and I recommend it highly.