The premise of Geoffrey Gerard’s debut novel, Cain’s Blood, is enough to make any horror aficionado pluck it from the shelf and give it a good once over. Clones of the world’s most infamous serial killers have escaped from a government-funded facility, leaving a trail of violent crimes in their wake. Shawn Castillo, a former black ops soldier, has been tasked with the capture of the escaped clones and ultimately teams up a young boy created from the genes of Jeffery Dahmer. What’s not to love?
Sadly, the brilliance of the premise is tarnished by the delivery. This is largely due to the novel’s rapid pace. Reading Cain’s Blood is akin to traversing a carnival in a rocket car. There are plenty of cool things to see, but most of the time you’re moving far too fast to get a good look. Much of the plot has the characters moving from state to state in pursuit, but little of the scenery is ever mentioned. Likewise, many of the houses and hotel rooms are cycled through with little attention to detail. What’s worse is that this breakneck speed kills much of the suspense the novel could have had. In the horror genre, pacing is King. No amount of crime scenes or gallons of blood can change that. At its heart, Cain’s Blood is more of a thriller one might take to the beach than a horror novel.
In terms of characterization, those who populate the novel often fall into worn tropes, particularly the protagonists. The damaged soldier seeking redemption and the misunderstood youth can feel paper thin in places, and the reader isn’t given solid reasons to cheer them on until later in the book. Additionally, the young clone is clearly used as a poster child for the nature vs. nurture debate, turning him into more of a medium for the author’s thoughts on the subject than a fully-realized character. The escaped killers themselves also leave something to be desired in terms of development as much of their characterization is heavily dependent on the personas of the originals to the point of it being a crutch, overshadowing any personal experience the clones might have, at least in the case of those partaking in the killing spree.
One of the stronger aspects of the novel is the information on cloning sprinkled throughout. Girard has done his homework, and it certainly shows. From a brief overview of cloning to open the novel to lectures on various government experiments and cover-ups, plenty of ground is covered. While this can sometimes turn into a heavy-handed info dump as a character proceeds to tell the reader about a dozen related events at a go, these insights tend to be some of the more enjoyable sections the book has to offer.
While the use of facts regarding real events makes progress toward cementing the premise in reality and making it more believable, almost every plot choice in the novel works to do the exact opposite. Between the addition of other government science experiments and Hollywood style shootouts, much of the novel ends up coming off as outlandish rather than convincing. Throw in a number of gaps in logic regarding the behavior of the escaped clones and a highly convenient ending and everything becomes a little too unstable. The suggestion that a clone of John Wayne Gacy would be genetically predisposed to wearing a clown suit and makeup is tenuous at best, as is the concept that a handful of homicidal loners would pile in a car for a murderous road trip.
It may be worth pointing out that the Internet is full of praise for the novel, and that while reading these reviews I felt as though I had experienced something entirely different from the average reviewer. If you’re looking to read something that is quick and requires little mental effort to digest, Cain’s Blood may be for you. However, if you are looking for something with prose that goes the extra mile and suspense served up with a good, old-fashioned sense of dread, it may be best to look elsewhere.