Short Take: “White Fire,” Brian Keene

Rating: 5 out of 5

Confession time: I know Brian Keene is a Big Deal in the horror community, so I figured I should read some of his books. I read two of them, and felt very disappointed. People whose tastes I really trust spoke so highly of his work, yet neither book appealed to me, and I found some of the material in one of them to be kind of problematic. But again, a lot of people I trust love his work and anyone can have an “off” book or two in between masterpieces, so eventually I came back to read another novella: White Fire. This time, I get it. I’m glad I persisted.

I have a deep love of pandemic stories (oh, the irony right now), and this book delivers. Army Captain Tom Collins and civilian contractor Phil McLeod are transporting a viral sample for the CDC. The weather is supposed to be clear, but they get caught out in a massive thunderstorm followed by a tornado warning. Before everything goes to hell, Collins spots a mysterious man standing next to a Jeep; for a moment he swears he sees the skull beneath the man’s face, and wings in the air behind him. Their truck isn’t designed to withstand the kind of things a tornado can toss at them, and soon the town of Godfrey has been quarantined.

The relentless tornado drives an incredibly tense opening to the novella. I was riveted before the virus ever got loose. And eventually, Collins spots the mysterious man again in his light-colored overcoat, with his long white hair (I kept picturing him as an anime character). This man is what really made the story for me. Even though I guessed who he was, he was still presented in a way that was wholly unexpected and absolutely fascinating.

All in all this is a riveting story, guaranteed to get your mind off of the real-world pandemic for an hour or two.

But all in all, the mayor said into a television camera, it could have been worse.
And then it was.

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