Book Review: Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

I have only had one previous experience reading Dan Simmons, it was the clever yet over-written Ilium which was sort of a futuristic retelling of Iliad – only the characters who populated the book were fully aware of Homer’s written work. So what about this, largely credited as one of the best horror books of our time?

It actually starts off in quite a gripping fashion – beginning with the story of a young Jewish man named Saul in a concentration during World War II. Throughout the story, which is set in the USA 1980s, we occasionally return to the events of the war. It becomes clear quickly that Saul survived and he has a tale to tell of an ancient evil that he came face to face with while inside the camp. This element of the story remains interesting and the main reason I keep through to the end when – sadly – the rest of the text failed to live up to the promise.

First off, there is a lot to praise the book for here. The concept of the Mind Vampire is truly chilling; they feed off the thoughts and feelings rather than blood and can control people’s actions. Feeding on their energy helps them stay young. They are malevolent psychics, in a nutshell, who use people to kill others. This has obvious implications for any murder investigation if each MO is the same, but the suspect profile differs wildly.

Saul realises what is going on and starts to reveal his horrifying tale of survival – including how he managed to get out of the Concentration Camp in the first place, way before the liberation of the camps in the east by the Red Army. The investigating office does not believe Saul… at first, but an event forces him to do so.

Anyone excited at the prospect of a conventional contemporary vampire thriller will be sorely disappointed – this is probably not what you were looking for and I find it odd that it was marketed in this way. Yet, the idea is in many ways better than that. It will appeal to those who like a good crime thriller with a touch of something a little different. It will certainly appeal to horror fans.

My complaints about this book mirror my complaints of Ilium, which is unfortunate, as both books have great premises that are spoilt by being bogged down in dense reams of text. I have the Kindle version and it clocked up something like 20 hours of reading – which is about as long as A Game of Thrones. This is surprising because as slow as that book was, there was always something going on. In Carrion Comfort, there are extended parts where next to nothing happens. I don’t get the modern propensity for pushing books to 800 pages, it’s rarely necessary especially for horror and crime, books you expect to be fast-paced and action-packed.

Too few of the characters are interesting, but the one who draws the attention most is of course Saul. Don’t get me wrong, this is not terrible… but it could have been so much better. Having now read two books by Simmons that I feel are bogged down with the same problems, I now feel reluctant to read any further hefty books written by him.

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