It is not often I read fiction, and the ghost horror genre is not something I would have chosen straight away. Yet in Rise Headless and Ride, it is as if the author Richard Gleaves listed the seven virtues named in Galt’s Speech together with their opposites and mapped them onto the hero and villain directly. For a fan of Rand’s philosophy good quality fiction is a huge relief.
You might think the supernatural is not the realm of clear rational long term thinking, or a respect for moral science – indeed for science of any kind. Yet, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief in psychometry, tarot cards and ghosts then you’ll be rewarded with a story about the scientific method of living life.
Jason Crane, our protagonist and the last descendant of Ichabod Crane, is a nerdy bullied orphaned teenager displaced from familiar surroundings and dumped into the high school at Sleepy Hollow, of Legend fame. The town is obsessed with the supernatural – it’s good for business – but no-one takes it seriously, especially Jason. His main allies are Eliza, his Grandmother, an aging genealogy enthusiast seeking one last adventure; and Joey the gravedigger’s son and lead singer in the school band. A murder and a genealogy project draw Jason into the world of the supernatural where it becomes obvious he has a Gift for extra-sensory perception. It is a schoolmaster’s gift, an ability to see the truth through visions triggered by objects, but Jason has difficulty accepting it. By turning to scientific experiments, however, he proves to himself that it is real and decides he must believe his own eyes.
The text is light and easy to read, characters are rich, and the emotion is often raw. There are no philosophical treatises embedded in the centre like 1984 and the climax is a homage to the thrilling chase of the legend, not a wordy speech like Atlas Shrugged. Yet the ideas are there: a love of life, respect for the true value in people, independence of mind, rationality and justice all presented in brief touches that are sensitive to the plot.
The antagonist – Hadewych Van Brunt – is a typical slick talking villain whose charming and flirtatious ways grate on Jason and on the reader. Yet in private the villain is a slob operating with a sense of entitlement and destiny reminiscent of Gail Wynand, but without any redeeming features. He rationalises his evil deeds as altruism directed towards his son. We pity the villain just as Jason has to decide whether his life will be best served by beheading him with a spade. The book is not short of gore.
Eliza wants Jason to settle in and sets him up with a friend, in the form of the villain’s son Zef, but our hero has high standards of the people in his life and will make up his own mind. Their first encounter ends with Jason humiliated in a stunt initiated by the school jocks. Jason is not afraid to tell Zef that he should not have gone along with it. From here the hero’s successes are gained through the application of reason and honest conduct, his major setback – a disaster of such magnitude that it remains unresolved after 349 pages – is the result of a momentary breakdown in honesty and independence. A lapse motivated perhaps by altruism, and a respect for the wishes of credulous Eliza, that sees Jason acting against his better judgement.
The book is not perfect – the maternal love between Eliza and Hadewych is hard to grasp. An ill advised forward slash interupts the final chase, I think I noticed one continuity error, but one struggles to find fault. These are minor flaws in a great book which deserves to do very well. Thanks to a flood of positive Amazon reviews it has made it to the top of the best-sellers list for US horrors, but it has not been easy for the author. The unfulfilled love between Joey and Zef was enough to have the book temporarily classified as erotica and pulled from the best-seller lists for a range of key genres. Today, justice is done and a free promotional period begins right in time for Halloween, part of a compensating deal with Amazon. As a result, you can now download the book to your Kindle reader on any Amazon Kindle device and both major smartphone platforms – and it is available to order in paperback internationally.
I suggest you do, as this thrilling story is well worth your time.
Rise Headless and Ride, by Richard Gleaves (part 1 of the “Jason Crane” series)
Paperback $11.24 and free on Kindle today.