One of England’s stranger seaside traditions is that of the Punch and Judy show. Ostensibly a Victorian pre-runner of Tom and Jerry cartoons and their violent slapstick, this puppet show revels in its ability to dish out abuse and trauma to its cast of characters. Which is apt as this is precisely what J.R. Park puts his characters through in his deliriously brutal and dark revenge novel “Punch.”
PUNCH BY J.R. PARK
Set in the sleepy seaside town of Stanswick Sands, the book follows the return of Martin Powell after an absence of 10 years. Back in the day he was the much loved Punch and Judy puppeteer who entertained families with his seaside show. Now however, he is a broken and tired husk of a man, haunted by demons and wanting nothing more than a quiet and peaceful life. Unfortunately, the present and his past are set to collide when he returns to the town that spurned him 10 years ago. People do not easily forget and Powell finds himself once again harassed, demonized and ostracized by the community. Only now there is only so much that a mind can tolerate before it snaps and the residents of Stanswick Sands will soon understand what fear really is.
I have to admit that I really liked Punch’s pacing and overall tone; it is a fantastically lean and mean short novel that whizzes by in next to no time. The book harkens back to the halcyon days of pulp horror books in the 1980s with x rated covers, content and bare bone plotting. Whilst Punch has some similarity with this era of books, the key difference here would have to be Park’s deft touch in creating a triumvirate of engaging but morally ambiguous central characters who are at the heart of the story. These are Martin and two young women, Joanna and Pippa. The initial perception that I had was of empathy towards three people damaged by events from the past but, as the story progresses, that perception begins to rapidly distort and I began to question where my sympathies should lie. And that last word is central to the events that unfold as Powell snaps and rampages through the town brandishing the vestigial remains of his former life, a Punch costume and a cricket bat.
Punch is a fast paced and violent pulp horror that drenches the streets of Stanswick Sands red and packs a tremendous wallop into its 200 pages or so. Sharp writing, solid characterization and with one of the most memorable endings in recent memory, Punch is a class act all the way.
It's carnival night in the seaside town of Stanswick Sands and tonight blood will stain the beach red. Punch and Judy man, Martin Powell, returns after ten years with a dark secret. As his past is revealed Martin must face the anger of the hostile townsfolk, pushing him to the very edge of sanity. Humiliated and stripped of everything he holds dear, Martin embarks on a campaign of murderous revenge, seeking to settle scores both old and new. The police force of this once sleepy town can't react quick enough as they watch the body count grow at the hands of a costumed killer. Can they do enough to halt the malicious mayhem of the twisted Punch?
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