SpecMusicMuse Review – Burning the Middle Ground by L. Andrew Cooper
With Burning the Middle Ground, the debut novel by L. Andrew Cooper, you will see (okay, read) the author’s strengths and weaknesses all in one. Set in a small town called Kenning, Georgia (and I believe, the word, Kenning, is purposeful, considering what the novel is about), it opens up with a small girl murdering her parents and then committing suicide just as her brother, Brian McCullough, finds her. Flash forward five years later, a journalist named Ronald Glassner arrives in town to write a biography about the tragedy that made the town, and Brian, so famous. Little does Ronald know what he’s getting into….
Cooper nails characterization and dialogue in a way few authors can manage. Ronald is by far the most interesting and roguishly lovable character I’ve read about in a while, and every other character in the story is memorable, even minor characters. You can also tell that Cooper did his research on alchemy and Hermetic magic as well as some Christian mysticism (and, where needed, just made it up).
The story falls short when it comes to overall plot, however. The middle section, which focuses on the chief antagonists, going as far back as before the start of the novel even, dragged the story out. While there were interesting bits and pieces, the interesting (and relevant) parts could’ve easily been handled through the regular plot narrative via segments of dialogue (which does appear later in the last third of the book, ironically, making the middle section almost obsolete) or even a few brief flashbacks by characters being interacted with (which, again ironically, pops up here or there in the final third—especially the scenes involving Jeanne). It was like the tension and suspense was building up and up, and then, instead of the necessary small drop, it instead suddenly dropped all the way through the floor, never rebuilding for the next hundred or so pages. That in itself would’ve been a story-killer if his characters weren’t so gosh-darn fun to read about (especially Ronald, who pretty much stole the entire show).
As Horror goes, I didn’t find Burning the Middle Ground as scary as I had hoped, and even as Dark Fantasy it didn’t seem to come to fruition for me (probably because I’m an old-school Dark Fantasy fan and thus expect the antagonist(s) to be more supernatural and antihero-ish). But there were elements that made the novel worth reading, and the ending appears to segue into either a trilogy or series. If so, then one can certainly view this novel as the “setting up” portion of a larger, more epic, tale. If so, I look forward to seeing Cooper come closer to his full potential with each new addition.
Best to read while listening to: Old fashioned church music—no, seriously. With perhaps a bit of Christian Rock tossed in with some King Diamond and Slayer. And a touch of AC/DC (“Highway to Hell” comes to mind).
*Ahem!* Dislaimer over thar —>
Yeah, to the side of your screem.
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