Writer Wrath James White throws us right into the action from the beginning of his latest short fiction, Hardcore Kelli.
Hardcore Kelli starts off with a bang—quite literally as the main character, Katy, is being shot at. To say that Katy is a unique character is an understatement. White introduces the character in two action-packed scenes. We meet Katy, an ex-cheerleader turned boxer and superhero. The combination alone creates suspense. How could one person be all three? What brought Katy to boxing and superherodom?
Each part of the story starts off-putting the reader in the center of the action—Katy fighting a villain as Hardcore Kelli, Katy in the ring, and Katy having one of many nightmares about a sexual assault from her past. From boxing, Katy becomes a stripper. Katy also suffers from past trauma and perhaps PTSD from sexual assault in high school and an abusive ex-husband. She copes by self-medicating with whiskey and various substances.
White creates a vividly violent portrait of each scene from bruises to blood as well as inner feelings and emotions. He creates a gritty atmosphere filled with three-dimensional characters such as a fiery-tempered boxing trainer and lecherous, misogynistic strip club patrons. The language is explicit, each word exploring the darker recesses of the human experience. White paints a sympathetic portrait of a woman on the edge, of someone who has been pushed too hard for too long. Katy is exploited in many different ways as a boxer and a woman.
Katy has a history of abuse. White piles on the misogyny and exploitation until Katy has had enough. Her trauma causes a lack of sleep which causes Katy to self-medicate. She becomes a ticking time bomb. One handsy customer at the strip club sends her into fight mode. In the parking lot, another customer tries to assault her, and she beats him to death. She then decides to return home to her mother.
Katy reluctantly returns home after 11 years and her mother welcomes her home. We find out Katy had night terrors as a child and thought that monsters were coming after her. She even stood outside of her mother’s bedroom with a knife to protect her mother from the monsters. She was put on medication for a while.
She has a 12-year-old little sister, Samantha. It’s the day before Halloween and Samantha wants to go trick or treating but needs Katy to go with her. There’s been a series of sexual assaults on young girls in the area.
White takes a short break from the carnage once Katy is back home. Katy starts to bond with Samantha by showing her how to fight. White effectively brings us into Katy’s head as he describes Samantha morphing into one of Katy’s previous attackers as Samantha is throwing punches and learning how to fight.
Samantha insists that Katy wear a costume and has the perfect character in mind—Hardcore Kelli. Samantha is a serious comic book fan and Hardcore Kelli is her favorite character. Hardcore Kelli also happens to have a lot in common with her big sister, Katy.
Like Katy, Hardcore Kelli is an ex-boxer. However, Hardcore Kelli becomes an ax-wielding vigilante with super strength and healing powers who chops off the heads of people who hurt women and children. After Hardcore Kelli killed an opponent in the ring she has to go into hiding.
Along with boxes filled with Hardcore Kelli comics, Samantha has a replica of Hardware Kelli’s ax under her bed. After Katy agrees to dress as Hardcore Kelli for Halloween, Samantha gives her the ax along with the comics to get into character.
The next day, as Katy finishes putting on her Hardcore Kelli costume, she finds out that Samantha is missing. Katy decides to take matters into her own hands.
White tells most of the story from Katy’s perspective but effectively switches points of view to other characters. The story stretched the boundaries of my suspension of disbelief until these shifts in perspective brought me back down to earth. This shift is done at just the right point in the story and rounds out the story perfectly.
The situation escalates as Katy/Hardcore Kelli is set off on a warpath leading to a surprising conclusion that sends an interesting message—from my perspective anyway. I enjoyed this story and didn’t want to close it until the last sentence. I appreciated the grittiness of it but it matches the horrific nature of the issues Katy must deal with. The subject matter isn’t pleasant but the issues Katy faces are, unfortunately, very real for many people out there.
I recommend this book if you like vigilantes, anti-heroes, and a good revenge story. Hardcore Kelli is an in-your-face, gritty, gore-filled tale that delivers an action-packed punch right between the eyes. The book is available from Cemetery Dance Publications and will be released on May 11th.
I never read any of Wrath James White’s work before, but after reading the boxing and fight scenes in Hardcore Kelli, I wasn’t surprised to learn that he is a former World Class Heavyweight kickboxer and professional kickboxing and mixed martial arts trainer. According to his author page on Amazon, he’s also a “distance runner, performance artist”, and “former street brawler, who is now known for creating some of the most disturbing works of fiction in print.”
Wrath James White’s other books include The Resurrectionist which the 2014 psychological horror movie, Come Back To Me was based on. His other books include: Succulent Prey, Prey Drive, Yaccub’s Curse, 400 Days of Oppression, Sacrifice, Voracious, To the Death, The Reaper, Skinzz, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town, The Book of a Thousand Sins, His Pain, Population Zero, and many others. He also co-authored many collaborations including Teratologist with Edward Lee, Something Terrible with his son Sultan Z. White, Orgy of Souls with Maurice Broaddus, Hero and The Killings with J.F. Gonzalez, Poisoning Eros with Monica J. O’Rourke, and more.