by Jack Ketchum
Published by Leisure Fiction, 2009
Originally published in 1987, this was actually Jack Ketchum’s third book but this new edition is both relevant and welcome. It also comes with a fascinating introduction by the author and an equally illuminating afterword from Thomas Tessier.
Lee is a Vietnam vet, damaged by his experiences of war to such an extent that he can no longer remain a part of “normal” society so he sets up camp in the backwoods, making a meagre living growing Marijuana. Kelsey is a bestselling writer, he sets off to the same backwoods with his entourage for a bit of hunting and a photo opportunity. As you may expect when the two worlds collide the outcome is not pleasant.
Read the blurb on Jack Ketchum’s Cover and you could easily be forgiven that this is basically a mash up of various ideas already executed elsewhere. Take one damaged Vietnam Vet (First Blood/Rambo), set him in the backwoods to grow some drugs (Copperhead Road), throw in a couple of city slickers and let the chase commence (Deliverance).
It’s a shame that this might be the impression people get because Cover, despite the obvious references is so much more than a tired rehash. Jack Ketchum has invested time, sweat and no doubt a few tears researching the experiences of Vietnam vets. With this background the bloodthirsty soldier becomes the victim. The tragedy of war and the hellish situations these people found themselves in are cleverly interwoven with the consequences, revealing, as the man once said, an inconvenient truth, the fact that any one of us, given the same experience, could be that very same, apparently, maniacal killer shunned by society.
Likewise the tawdry life of the main character, a successful writer with something of a strange array of personal relationships, and his “hangers-on” certainly doesn’t become any sort of hero figure. As they step into a territory which clearly isn’t theirs, and then proceed to violate it, it’s almost like an affront to nature and in nature there is generally a fightback to protect that territory.
The first hundred and fifty pages or so, sets the scene for the main characters, we find out about their personal lives, their history and their imperfections are laid out for us to see. The second half of the book then sets the two conflicting types against one another in dramatic fashion.
So what could easily be dismissed as another tired old rehash of a story told a thousand times before, becomes a rich psychological thriller with deep humanist undertones. Each reader’s relationship with the main characters will be different, reflecting back something of your own nature. Most of all though, Jack Ketchum has achieved what he set out to do, create a deeper understanding of the horrors of war and it’s effects on those who experience it. It’s perhaps not too surprising, just tragic that this has become as relevant as ever again. Above all though this is a good read, like all of Jack Ketchum’s books it reveals some truths that we may prefer to leave hidden but this elevates it to another level. It might not be horror in any traditional sense but the horrors portrayed within are more real than any supernatural creation.
Rating 4 out of 5