Mar 18, 2020

 

Book Review - Red Hail (by Jamie Killen)

Title: Red Hail
Series: -
Author: Jamie Killen
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery & Thriller
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing, LLC
Release Date: January 21st, 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 358




"Professor Colin Ayres has spent years researching the strange story of Galina, Arizona, a sleepy border town ripped apart by violence and paranoia after the outbreak of a mysterious illness in 1960. Colin is certain the Galina Incident was simply a case of mass hysteria. But when his partner, Alonzo, starts exhibiting strange symptoms, Colin is shocked to realize they are the same as those that emerged in Galina decades ago.
 

As Alonzo’s condition worsens, Colin scrambles to piece together what really happened during that terrible summer in the past. He uncovers a story of murder, corruption, and fanaticism. The deeper he digs, the more he becomes convinced that what happened in Galina wasn’t mass hysteria after all.

When others start to develop the same eerie symptoms, Colin must confront the possibility that someone—or something—is driving the plague. Guided by rumors of a person who found a way to stop the plague in the sixties, Colin races to find answers before the disease destroys Alonzo and everyone else it touches."



Red Hail
(click to read an excerpt on Amazon)


- Review -
What Made Me Read It
I was sent a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The author described it as an "historical mystery sci-fi novel... a first contact story [where] dual investigations in 1960 and in 2020 both uncover aspects of the plagues that seem possibly supernatural or extraterrestrial, and in both times the characters are able to make contact with the entities that have occupied their bodies". It sounded intriguing so I decided to give it a go.
 

The Plot
Summer of 1960. A sudden crimson colored hail falls from the sky over Galina, a small copper mining town near New Mexico. A week later, the 3 children who went missing during the storm start showing a series of eerie fits and seizures that soon spread to the entire community. Driven by fear, the small town falls prey to religious fanaticism, racial conflict and bloodshed. Skeptical to take the symptoms as the work of the devil, 16-year-old Anza Kearney, Dove McNally and Father Santiago join forces to discover the real cause of the disease, on a race against time to find a cure before chaos tears Galina apart.
 

Summer of 2020. Colin Ayres is a college professor of sociology researching the Galina Plagues for his dissertation. When his companion Alonzo Cardenas, a descendant of a Galina resident, suddenly shows the same symptoms, Colin is forced to discard his initial mass hysteria theory and look for a different explanation. Sonia Rollins is a single mother, working as a bartender and a blues band singer. After her 7-year-old son suddenly starts going through strange fits and seizures and the doctors accuse her of abuse, Sonia reaches out to the one person who might be able to help her: the sociology researcher who's been contacting survivors of the Red Hail and their descendants. Anything is on the table, from a simple virus to crackpot theories, government experiments, possession, aliens... it's up to Colin, Alonzo and Sonia to find the answers before this disease destroys their lives.
 

The Ones have come to learn and to teach. The Agreement of the First Meeting has been honored and The Ones need to consult with Those of Origin in order to proceed. But the Means to contact Those of Origin is in possession of one of the First Speakers and has been moved from its original location. Now The Ones must travel to the Place of Landing in order to find the Means and complete the mission.
 

The Good
"Red Hail" is a science-fiction mystery-thriller novel, set both in 1960 Galina and 2020 Tucson. In the summer of 1960, the multicultural copper mining town of Galina witnesses the fall of a mysterious red hail, followed by an epidemic of strange and frightening physical symptoms that lead to paranoia, rioting and bloodshed. A 16-year-old girl (Anza Kearney), a middle-aged widow and former nurse (Dove McNally) and a catholic priest (Father Santiago) struggle to find a cure for the disease and save the town. 60 years later, on the anniversary of the Red Hail events, a college professor of sociology (Colin Ayres) working on his dissertation about the Plague Summer, is forced to rethink his mass hysteria theory when his companion (Alonzo Cardenas) and a single mother bartender and blues singer (Sonia Rollins), both descendants of former Galina's residents, start manifesting the exact same symptoms, along with several other people spread across the country.
 

The narrative alternates between the 2 timelines, weaving together seamlessly around the Galina Plagues mystery, with the present day timeline (through Colin's scientific research and Alonzo's and Sonia's personal experiences) complementing the past in a way that doesn't feel like we're reading 2 different stories, allowing us to explore and solve the mystery alongside the characters as they all go through the strange events in their respective times. The worldbuilding around the Red Hail is well thought-out: the symptoms and progressive stages of the disease (Naming Disease, Statue Disease, Dancing Sickness and Remembering), the origin of the Plague, the way both generations search for answers and how the mystery plays out in both timelines... it's logical and very plausible.
 

It's not an action-packed plot but mostly a realistic and believable character study, even with all the supernatural and science fiction elements, full of tension and suspense. In the 1960 timeline, the residents of Galina, a peaceful town under normal circumstances, show both the best and the worst of themselves when confronted with the unknown: some respond with violence, racial/gender conflict and religious fanaticism, preying on minorities and blaming them for the disease; while others explore the fear and uncertainty to strengthen their own influence and control. In the present day timeline, Colin must broaden his horizons in order to help his companion, while Alonzo and Sonia must learn to deal with a condition that strongly affects who they are, their relationships and their future.
 

The characters are 3-dimentional and complex, with realistic behaviors, reactions and motivations: the evangelist pastor, who uses the plague to consolidate his power over his congregation; a bright and curious young girl, brave enough to stand up for herself and those threatened by racial violence; a single mother, plagued by feelings of inadequacy, who will do what it takes to protect her son; a sociologist who steps outside his comfort zone in order to help his companion; the town's drunken thug who uses the plague to feed his own racism and misogyny...

It's a truly engaging story guaranteed to keep you glued to your seat until the very last page.
 
Final Rating
"Red Hail" is a standalone science-fiction mystery-thriller novel, set both in 1960 Galina and 2020 Tucson, a realistic and believable character study full of tension and suspense. Recommended for those who enjoy mystery-thrillers and first contact stories.



• • • •



- About the Author -
Website: jamieskillen.wordpress.com
Twitter: @jamieskillen
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror
 

I’m a Texas-based writer of sci-fi, dark fantasy, and horror. My favorite authors include Caitlin Kiernan, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, Graham Joyce, Connie Willis, and David Mitchell. When it comes to comics, I’m partial to Brian K. Vaughan, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Scott Snyder, and Brian Michael Bendis. My two dogs are named after characters in Fullmetal Alchemist and Doctor Who, which probably tells you plenty about my TV viewing preferences.
 

I've published a couple dozen horror/SFF short stories and novellas over the years. At the moment, I'm the writer and producer of SPINES, MIRRORS, and THE SIX DISAPPEARANCES OF ELLA MCCRAY, all dark audio drama podcasts. You can check out my audiodrama work at https://spinespodcast.com/ or at https://www.mirrorspodcast.com
 

My interests outside of fiction include international travel, creative mixology, socialism, feminist theory, early-twentieth-century nude photography, Thai cuisine, and finding new and exciting ways of combining all of the above.

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