BLACK OAK #1: GENESIS
Charles L. Grant
Roc Books / 272 pages / 1 May 1998
Charles Grant owes me one night’s sleep. I mean, what kind of fool stays up past midnight when the alarm will be going off at 5:30 am? The lucky fool who has latched onto a copy of Black Oak #1: Genesis. The sly boots who knew by page three that this is a book that demands to be finished before something as trivial as sleep breaks in. Charles Grant — the very name should have been warning enough.
Genesis is our hypnotising introduction to Black Oak Security. Not your standard security firm, by any means, and not your run-of-the-mill cases. At least, not the ones that interest Proctor, the Boss of this offbeat group of investigators. The clients who unveil the cases that keep Proctor’s loneliness at bay are the ones other firms would eject with varying measures of politeness. It may be the fraud and theft out there that keep Black Oak in business, but it is the threats that hide in the shadows that keep them poring over files long into the night.
This time, it is the bizarre and grisly circumstances surrounding the death of Sloan Delaney, one of their own investigators, that propels the firm into the unknown. And what they don’t know definitely wants to hurt them. Even the setting — backwoods Kentucky — works to keep them off-balance and on the edge of danger.
Whatever forces are acting upon Proctor and his team, it is no secret what draws the reader in with an unbreakable grip. Grant has always been one of the best at wrapping his readers up in the horror of a situation. It begins with an enviable grasp of character that draws comparisons to Martha Grimes’ and Andrew Vachss’ best work. So solid and emotional is his portrayal of even the most minor character, that the loss of Delaney feels genuine; he would have been an endearing and intriguing presence in later volumes. Not to worry, though, Grant populates all of his books with an endless supply of people who evoke that kind of gut response.
In case you’re thinking Grant is strictly a character man, his treatment of atmosphere and setting are just as skillful. From Proctor’s hideaway overlooking the Hudson River to a sad, small-time strip joint in rural Kentucky, every location is satisfyingly real. Grant uses fewer keystrokes to establish a mood than seems possible.
Comparisons between Black Oak #1: Genesis and The X-Files are probably unavoidable, but the distinctions are important. These are not the adventures of Dr. Moistlips and Agent Longtorso; these are people you might know. Or might be. There are no mammoth conspiracies overlaying every action; the truth comes out, even if it may be too much to take in. Maybe that’s what gives you a stiff neck looking over your shoulder — the horror could be real and it could be right behind you.