“Christopher Rice skilfully reveals a labyrinth of deadly secrets and horrifying surprises.”
– Gregg Hurwitz.
This is an apt description for the Miramax published novel by Christopher Rice. I’d first stumbled upon the book in a Waterstones’ ‘reduced’ section and after reading the blurb and discovering it was only going for a smooth £1.99 I decided to throw it on the counter and headed home.
The plot begins in an abstract fashion as we are immediately transported to Avenal, California in the midst of the discovery that a teacher has been killed under some very suspicious circumstances, after becoming “dangerously obsessed with a thirteen-year-old boy named Caden McCormick.” Now, if that would lead readers (like myself) to believe that this is the sole direction the novel is taking, they would be undoubtedly mistaken. What Rice manages to do so skilfully, is continually lead readers on a path where you believe you are secure in your convictions – that whatever you are predicting in your mind is next to come, will ring true and just as you get complacent, he shifts you right out of your comfort zone and places you into new territory. This is something that is weaved together quite seamlessly by the main character Adam Murphy who tells us his exploits vividly as he works his way through the seedy underground of some of the less glamorous sides and people of California.
The plot is so well put together but so multi-layered. On one level you have Adam – a creatively stifled Journalist working at a gay magazine, unhappy because he is only permitted to write about fluffy topics and not the serious issues that affect gay men, like himself. He’s also regularly penalised by his boss and his elusive lover Corey Howard about his strong affinity towards getting blindly drunk every night and falling into the arms of strange men…and doing things he is not so proud of in the morning. In an attempt to change the direction he sees his life heading in he takes on a story that his boss won’t publish – about a family’s trailer home being set on fire, also bringing about the mystery of a child – Caden McCormick who seemingly had vanished from the home, never to be seen again. Adam senses there is way more going on beneath what is displayed in the column of a newspaper article and with the help of a prolific but controlling novelist whose career has gotten progressively less respected along the years, he goes about trying to search for that intangible thing: the truth.
Things begin to unravel and bit by bit, you’re left stunned by what’s uncovered by Adam along the way. He finds out that not only was the death of the teacher and the disappearance of Caden McCormick no coincidence or mistake but also that everything and almost everyone is his own life that he had held true are also not quite as they seem. This journey leads him into some of the most squalid recesses of the gay scene in Los Angeles and also finds him in the middle of the rampant Crystal Meth grip on the city and some of its inhabitants.
This book was a fantastic read because it launched me into a world I really had little to no bearing on and it does it with such finesse that you have no choice but to stay up all night trying to figure out what’s going to happen next.
I also did not know that Christopher Rice is the son of prolific author Anne Rice and also has other critically acclaimed novels under his belt such as, ‘A Density of Souls,’ and ‘The Snow Garden.’
His telling of Adam’s story was very authentic and fresh – it is unlike anything else I’ve read. My only real gripe’s with this book is that towards the middle it slows down a little in pace and it is also difficult trying to keep up with how all the characters tie together which can ruin the unveiling of certain pieces of information that are relinquished to you. Other than that, it was compelling, shocking and informative – so many of the things depicted in this novel have obvious and strong origins in the real world.
I’d give ‘Light Before Day’ a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.