FARALLON ISLAND by Russell James [Book Review]

by Russell James
Published by Silver Shamrock Publishing
Available in paperback and eBook format

Nate Thalmann and his pregnant wife Alice set sail for Farallon Island where Nate has landed a job as one of the four lighthouse keepers there. Turning his back on a life of bootlegging for gang boss Caruso, who’s latest dealing ended in a bloodbath, Nate hopes he can escape the life of crime for a more optimistic future for his family but is under no illusion that his new role that will be anything other than difficult.  26 miles away in the Pacific Ocean and with a supply vessel making the trip only once per month, their new life will be a very lonely one cut off from the hustle and bustle of the city life they’re accustomed to, but at least danger will no longer be on their doorstep… or at least that’s what Nate thinks, unaware that something deep within the island has begun to stir…

Set in the 1930’s during the Prohibition Era, FARALLON ISLAND is a tale of terror set on an isolated island off the coast of San Francisco, where a couple venture in the hope for a future for themselves and their unborn child. What they don’t expect is for the island to have been consumed by an ancient darkness that has devilish desires that will impact every single one of the island’s inhabitants.

With only a handful of characters, FARALLON ISLAND is quite the intimate affair which works to its advantage, given the subject and setting of the story. Our main characters are Nate and Alice, though we spend almost as much time with Alberto and Isabella Flores and their two children, Emilio and Gabriella, who too live on Farallon Island, having come into financial difficulty at their previous residence in California. Having the Flores family there provides a comfort for Nate and Alice, the latter in particular as she prepares for her imminent birth. With an experienced mother and two children to keep her company, Alice’s outlook on the island life is more promising that she first envisaged until events begin to spiral out of control. Although already a difficult place to bring up a family, the characters are truly tested when their lives there are threatened and, being so far away from true civilisation and any sort of emergency services or security enforcement, they have to rely on each other to survive.

Russell James does a fantastic job at framing Farallon Island as a character in its own right; its treacherous terrain lethal in itself. Jagged rocks, the foul stench of guano, and rats scurrying across the island make it an unwelcoming place, whilst Miss Fresnel, the cute nickname for the lighthouse, is a mistress that requires 24/7 attention. This is a raw, unforgiving setting for any horror novel, and the fact that James has set it purposely in a time before mobile phones, internet and any sort of reliable communication coverage makes it all the more frightening. The isolation of the craggy, desolate island ramps up the fear of being trapped and exposed, like taking potshots at fish in a barrel, and it feels like its only a matter of time before each of the characters is faced with the grim reality of the predator stalking the island. The lighthouse, Miss Fresnel, stands watch over the island, a guardian to those out at sea, but can she be a guardian for those on the island as well?

Within 151 pages, James manages to suck you into this tiny world where survival of the island itself is as much of a task as it is surviving whatever evil may be lurking on it. Fortunately, the characters are a tight knit bunch that can be relied upon to help each other out in their hour of need but even they need to summon all their strength against what’s thrown at them. Like being battered by a storm, the fear is unrelenting. Even when all appears calm on the surface, the darkness is stalking in the grass, ready to strike at any moment. This is one of things that impressed me about James’ writing. He doesn’t let you catch your breath. You may be under the illusion that all is well, but under the surface he’s poised for the next attack. This is true horror. It doesn’t come in predictive waves, but will hit you straight between the eyes at any given moment. My only slight criticism is that some of these events feel a little rushed after the initial strike, but given the ordeal the characters endure, I’m sure time is something they have very little of. As a reader though, I needed a little more time to process these moments, but they’re still brutally effective as they stand.

As a supernatural, survival horror, FARALLON ISLAND is a gripping slice of suspenseful storytelling with a sinister menace flowing throughout, bubbling beneath the surface. James’ descriptive language captures the essence of life there in that moment, catapulting you into the living, breathing world he has created. Farallon Island being a real-life place no doubt gave James a wealth of inspiration, including ol’ Jack the mule, allowing him to effectively craft his characters and the environment into such a vivid, bleak nightmare. This is truly a violent and relentless thriller that gets under your skin with such ease.

Without a doubt, FARALLON ISLAND will change the way you look at lighthouse islands in future. And if you’re really curious about the book’s real-life location, you can view a live webcam of Farallon Island, which has turned into a private nature reserve run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rating: ★★★★½

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About Bat 4392 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Yakuza Zero and Mafia III.

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