by Alan Baxter
First thing I love about The Roo – that cover. Striking, brilliant, letting you know exactly the kind of thing you’re in for with this book. Second thing – the fact this story was born from the Horror Community at its finest. Various people (who go on to appear in the tale) encouraged Baxter to write it, after a brilliant mock-up cover by Kealan Patrick Burke. Which is why the hero is named after Dead Head’s very own Patrick, and the characters surrounding him would be familiar to anyone who spends time in the community.
Well, their names, at least.
And Baxter gives many absolutely fantastic, grisly deaths, effectively painting a picture of this Australian outback town in the midst of mayhem. For those who can’t quite wrap their head around the Aussie dialogue, there’s even a handy guide at the end for the abbreviations they’re so fond of.
The story itself is about a supernaturally charged Roo, attacking anyone and everyone he comes across. The characters themselves are blissfully unaware, until regulars at the local pub stop showing up and they realise there is something dangerous in their midst.
Like all good horror, however, there is something deeper going on than just a big, angry Roo.
Through the tale of a demonic, red-eyed kangaroo, Baxter explores important themes. Even in a small, tightly-knit community, life in the Outback is lonely and dangerous. There are expectations to be upheld, a portrayal of masculinity in crisis. Like any town struck by the fast progress of industry, the people here struggle. They just about make ends meet, and the best of the community know the value of checking in on one another. Mental health, alcoholism, and domestic abuse are the undercurrent themes, coming into full force when the men fall into the trap of thinking more firepower will destroy the monster stalking them.
The Roo might be delivering the final blow, but it’s clear it’s not just the monster responsible for the townspeople’s demise.
The premise for The Roo might sound like something from the SyFy channel, and it might have started as something light-hearted, but Baxter has turned this completely around and given us a story with a strong – but not preachy – message, giving readers, many of whom are likely located in the US, a glimpse of true Australian Outback life, revealing the cracks underlying it and showing how a community united can overcome it.
It’s a powerful book, perhaps even more powerful than the Roo that graces its cover, and one to linger with the reader, for more than its gory deaths. Though they are pretty damn awesome, too.
Review by Elle Turpitt
I received an e-copy of this book from the author for review consideration.