Lee Thompson’s horror-noir Shine Your Light On Me certainly shines light into the dark places of the human spirit. Set in small-town America, amidst a seething mass of family feud, infidelity, domestic abuse and resentment, it tells the story of a single night in which the miraculous happens and changes the town for ever.
One would have thought that a bar full of people being miraculously healed of all their ills would lead to joy and jubilation, and for some it does. But the joy soon turns sour as those who were not present become bitter that they were not there, and demands for the young protagonist, Aiden, to repeat a feat he wasn’t even aware of performing turn predictably nasty.
There are many horror tropes at play here. We have a hostage situation, when Aiden and his crippled father are taken hostage by Mitch, his father’s greatest enemy, to force him to cure his daughter; a zombie-esque siege as the locals become desperate enough for salvation that they will kill anyone in their path; the unhinged psychopath, Pine, used as an enforcer by his brother but who ultimately ends up out of control. All of this is highlighted with a multitude of Biblical references that ultimately pitches the tone of the tale into one of Messiah against Anti-Christ, but with little redemption for the bystanders. Likewise, the darkness of the material runs deep. Pine molests the child whom Aiden is forced to cure, another youth, driven by an abusive father and the apathy of his peers, plots to blow up his school as a final suicidal act, Aiden’s father is crippled after being crucified by Pine and Mitch to punish him for his affair with their step-mother, locals become mindless as mass hysteria grips them, whipped up by an almost-literally born-again pastor… the list goes on (although one wonders, given the events leading up to the story, why police aren’t crawling all over the town; Mitch and Pine’s mock-crucifixion seems to have had precious few consequences).
And this, perhaps, is where Shine Your Light On Me falls down. There is an awful lot happening in a relatively short book, and while the gore and the horror are impactful and the depths of depravity in the small town are hard-hitting, perhaps a little more time to develop characters before they are dispatched would increase the power of this book. The themes of redemption, and missed opportunities for it, and the light and dark shades of life and the meaning of it, are bubbling away beneath the surface, but the novel comes to the boil too soon, and while the closing scenes are certainly impressive, the reader’s lack of engagement with the characters themselves leads to the events feeling somewhat hollow, but nonetheless sensational.
Overall, a quick and fun read for fans of horror and gore.