While I am often thrilled by undiscovered authors that I am introduced to through DarkFuse’s books, it is nice to sometimes read a story by an established author in and established series of stories. In March, DarkFuse is going to give readers one of these treats with the release of “Red Cells” by Jeffrey Thomas that takes the reader back into the world of Punktown that Thomas crafted many years ago and has expanded upon in several different stories.
Jeremy Stake is a private detective and a mutant that can copy the shape of anyone that he studies. Due to financial struggles, he accepts an off-the-book job to take the place of a convicted criminal to serve a six month jail sentence in exchange for $20,000. When Stake accepts the job, he does not know that he is going to be sent to a new jail that is located in a pocket dimension outside of the world of Punktown. This is a new venture for the justice system and one that the warden wants to work as it will not only mean new jails from which escape is impossible but new opportunities of profit in the development of other facilities.
Stake soon learns that there is going to be much more to this job than originally thought when he learns of a series of murders in the prison. Even though the prisoners are locked up and under video surveillance, they are being seemingly disintegrated and the cameras are malfunctioning and failing to capture the murders. His secret is revealed when the criminal he is replacing is arrested for another crime and one of the prison gangs forces him to investigate the murders. What he is about to learn about the gruesome murders is going to rock the world of the prison and maybe even the world outside of the pocket dimension that it is housed in.
“Red Cells” is a story set in an existing universe and starring a recurring character but it is not necessary to be familiar with the other Punktown stories in order to enjoy this novella. While having read those other works will add to the story, this is a standalone tale that can be enjoyed for what is in this book. Thomas is a very good storyteller and “Red Cells” is a good example of his mastery. This is a tightly written story that blends science fiction and horror together to create something unique (as do the other Punktown books). Stake is a complex and flawed character, as are the other characters that fill this novella, and that makes the story all the better as it is easy to relate to him even though he is not human. Stake has the ability to become whatever he wants, a power that many would long for, but this only leads to deeper complications to his life.
While “Red Cells” is a novella, it still manages to raise some larger questions for the reader to ponder. It has aspects of the consequences of humans meddling with nature and trying to play god as well as the exact meaning of freedom and the price of freedom. There is plenty of action and horror to satisfy fans of the genre and the story can be read as a simple tale of terror but there is much more to it for the reader who chooses to dig deeper. I have to admit that I have never read all of the Punktown books but the few that I have read have all been entertaining and “Red Cells” is a strong addition to the Punktown universe.
I would like to give a special thank you to DarkFuse and NetGalley for this advance review copy. “Red Cells” is scheduled to be released by DarkFuse in March and is available for preorder now.