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Red (2002)
Fiction Review by The Mortician

Red (2002) It's great to walk into a Barnes and Noble bookstore and see the latest JACK KETCHUM novel staring at you in the entrance foyer! Leisure is doing a great job of promoting and releasing Ketchum's work and I hope people are buying, buying, buying...RED is the story of an old man named Ludlow who lives in a small Maine town. One day, while minding his own business in the woods, some crazy juveniles try to rob him. One of them has a shotgun and kills his dog Red for no good reason at all. (Well, Ludlow only had $20.00 cash and that annoyed the punks---who didn't really need the money anyway.) The teens all laugh about what they've done.Ludlow is not a man to be messed with. He's got a troubled past (most of his family, including his wife, is dead) and Red was all he had left. As a matter of fact, his wife gave him that dog and he loved him so. Red was Ludlow's family.Ludlow is not a raving psychopath, like you'd expect. He's a calm, rationale, feeling human being, and Ketchum draws us into his reasoning and plight. He tracks the boys down and tells their parents what they've done. The parents don't care. Like so many today, they have let their kids get away with anything and everything and are a little 'touched' in the head themselves.Ludlow tries the local sheriff. No luck. Not much of a case. Ludlow tries a lawsuit. No go---the DA doesn't want to press it. After all, it was just a dog, and in Maine law, 'only a piece of property not worth more than $500.'Ludlow goes to the media and gets his story on the news. This riles up one of the families and they burn down his store. From there, the action and suspense never stop. Ludlow demands that justice be served and the cat-and-mouse games begin. He just wants the boys to own up to what they've done and not turn out to be a bunch of psychos.But one of their daddy's IS a psycho and isn't beyond doing ANYTHING to protect his brood...RED draws you in from beginning to end. The story is clear, sharp, and engrossing. The lead character is effectively essayed...the reader can identify with him perfectly and feels that he's almost a neighbor. When the punk kids do their thing, you're on Ludlow's side.You feel his disappointment and rage.The road to get justice is the typical American nightmare, a theme that Ketchum explores often and well in his work. His sad commentary on America is that there is little juctice in our legal system, especially for the victim. Not since STRANGLEHOLD has Ketchum hit the nail on the head so directly. I also loved the reference to the OFF SEASON books and HIDE AND SEEK. Astute Ketchum readers should catch it...The ending to the story is not what you'd exactly expect but it is very satisfying all the same. You don't see it coming, and that's what makes Ketchum's work so original and powerful. It's ripped from the headlines and doesn't end like you wish it would. But the payoff is wicked cool and the finale will bring tears to your eyes...Ketchum writes with passionate emotion and transfers it easily to the reader.There is a subplot with a sexy TV reporter and Ludlow that is a little far-fetched, but that alone isn't enough to take the powerful wind out of this story's sails. I could see Clint Eastwood playing Ludlow and directing the film version of this, so if Jack Ketchum's agent is reading this, get a copy of this masterpiece to Malpaso Productions ASAP! About mid-way through the book, I couldn't get Eastwood playing the Ludlow character out of my mind. I think it would work beyond belief...A bonus story is included in this book. (Like an extra on a DVD!) It's called THE PASSENGER and is another rollercoaster ride into Ketchum depravity: A young female defense attorney's car breaks down and an old high school acquaintance picks her up. And this lady's off her rocker...when a trio of thugs end up kidnapping them for a little murder spree, the acquaintance JOINS IN on the action and does her best to break the attorney's sanity!The ending is totally outrageous, and let's just say the attorney avenges everyone when they end up hiding at a place called 'Hole In The Wall.' Ketchum fans from the beginning won't be disappointed with this story---it's got all the elements of his past stuff, including JOYRIDE and THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. You'll be wanting more!Jack Ketchum is clearly one of the best voices working in any genre of American writing today. His stories are powerful, his characters are real, and his commentary on America's state of decay is all too believable. I hope more and more people find him and he gets the success he deserves. Don't miss this book. It'll haunt you for days and weeks after...
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