I’m pretty open about the fact that I’m queer. It’s an important aspect of who I am as a person and I am always delighted to read books with a focus on LGBTQ+ characters. While we’ve thankfully begun to move away from the “token gay” character in media to more variety, it feels special to have something specifically marketed as queer horror and written by a queer person. This is one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read and is my favourite of 2021 so far.
Red X made me feel heartbroken and hopeful. It reminded me that while the LGBTQ+ community has come a long way, especially in recent years, the hardships and violent attacks some of us face are still a reality and should continue to be discussed. The AIDS crisis is not ancient history. The PULSE nightclub shooting only happened a few years ago. We need to continue to fight. Before I even get to the book I want to add some personal background.
Every generation has its horror story, the boogeyman to avoid, the warnings and precautions against predators, homophobia, and transphobia. For me, it was the horrifying and tragic passing of Matthew Shepard in October 1998. He was only 21. Beaten, tortured, and left to die by his attackers for his sexuality. During a class on social issues in high school, I presented a report about him. I’m from a small town. I’ve dealt with both verbal and physical harassment. These things happen more often than we’d like to admit. If you are not LGBT it’s probably not something you think about unless it’s someone you know or national news.
I’m in a safe environment now but Red X brought back these memories. Set in Toronto and taking place through many decades the story follows several gay men who go missing while their friends and family desperately search for answers. While these are fictional accounts and there is a supernatural element to the deaths, this is not far from the truth.
In 2018, a man named Bruce McArthur was arrested and charged with the murder of eight people. He specifically targeted gay men. Some knew of him and he became the local Boogeyman, with police heavily criticized for both victim blaming and not taking missing-person cases seriously enough.
Author David Demchuk lived through these events, using some of his personal experiences intermittently between chapters. He portrays the fictional accounts with sincerity and a raw approach that quickly makes you attached to these men, who you unfortunately know will meet an untimely end. The sadness and fear are palpable. It’s equal measures captivating and tragic. (I also tend to read before bed, so I had a few nights of laying awake reflecting.) How can you go through life knowing there’s a killer out there, looking for people like you? Like your friends? Some turn to paranoia and despair, others throw caution to the wind. Before AIDS was fully understood, this approach was taken by many. Against an unknowable enemy, what can you do but laugh?
A major component to the tale is a red notebook, following like a specter and filled with seemingly impossible accounts of victims (the true nature of this revealed later). To have something so mundane as a journal become so menacing is a feat in itself. Watching and reading horror can be a battle of “no don’t go in there!” and the need to find out exactly what’s going on. The natural separation of the reader to character makes this a safe realm to explore horrible events, even ones with which we’ve personally dealt.
The combination of both perpetrated by man and mythical adds another layer of terror because violence can come from anywhere. You will never be two steps ahead because they are five, six ahead of that.
There is a light within this darkness, the ones left behind who never stop searching for the truth. Even wracked with the pain of guilt they continue fighting, continuing living their truths. Robin and Salem are two of the most important characters and are a lesbian couple. Salem is a trans woman. I’m a sucker for a realistic romance and relationship in a story and soon grew to love this pair and was sad to say goodbye to them. With the number of unhappy scenarios in Red X the glimmers of love stick even more.
I know much of this review is more about how I felt while reading the book. The relationship between author and reader is a strange one but I am grateful for the opportunity to be a tiny part of it thanks to David Demchuk. It’s a parasocial interconnectedness that’s hard to quantify. The heart and soul poured into it jump out and grab a hold of you.
While I received an early eBook version of Red X I can say with all honesty I will be purchasing it because that’s how much it resonated with me. It’s also important to support queer authors because we have unique stories only we can tell, fiction or not. Your life and experiences matter. Share them with the world.
An ebook copy of Red X was provided by publisher Strange Light for review purposes. It is set to be released on August 31st, 2021.
Looking for more horror book reviews? We’ve got you:
“Death in Her Hands Offers a Different Take On Psychological Horror”
“In the Garden of Spite Asks Us: Empowered Female or Serial Killer”