Hardcore Kelli

Hardcore Kelli by Wrath James White

Bullets whizzed past Katy as she dashed through the grass and weeds, and the maze of broken recreational vehicles, farm equipment, and other slowly oxidizing junk. She gripped the gleaming battle axe in both hands as she waded through gunfire, determined to reach her arch nemesis and end his reign of terror forever. Murder Man stood in the doorway of the rundown mobile home, firing at will. She had found his lair. Now it was time to bring him to justice.

Katy hurdled the rusting skeleton of an old ’77 Ford Thunderbird like an Olympic gymnast. She had once been a cheerleader, a good one. Once upon a time she could do flips, handsprings, and somersaults with ease. That was so long ago it felt more like an ancient story from some dusty old history book than something that had actually occurred in her lifetime.

Like someone else’s life…

The IndieMuse Review

I’m a big fan of extreme horror and of all the extreme horror writers working today, nobody quite manages the fine balance of strong stories and social commentary without skimping on the guts and gore quite as well as Wrath James White. His books are memorable just as much for the characters as they are the hardcore horror and they always have an underlying message or moral that elevates the material beyond the work of his contemporaries. I was more than a little intrigued when I heard that his latest would tackle the world of superheroes.

Katy is a former boxer who is currently working as a stripper when her fighting career came to an abrupt end after a disastrous fight put a stop to her calling before it could even begin. A head injury has left her quick to anger and quicker to lash out at those around her. When an incident at the club leaves her unemployed and with nowhere to go, she is forced to return home to stay with her mother and young sister, whom she hasn’t spoken to for years.

Katy’s young sister idolizes her and is thrilled when she agrees to come out trick or treating with her on Halloween. Even better, Katy dresses up as her favourite superhero; Hardcore Kelli, somebody to whom Katy bears an uncanny resemblance… When her young sister goes missing, the line between Katy and Hardcore Kelli becomes blurred as she sets out to find her, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake.

With comic book TV shows like The Boys and Invincible currently getting headlines and rave reviews for deconstructing superheroes, I thought at first that Hardcore Kelli would be in a similar vein. After all, the uber-violent and morally grey worlds these shows depict seem to be well within White’s wheelhouse. I was surprised when the book took a decidedly different approach to the genre.

White makes the wise decision to keep things vague in regards to the superheroics. It is never expressly said one way or another whether Katy and Hardcore Kelli are one and the same, and it is strongly suggested that Katy’s mental health issues are causing these delusions, triggered by her desire to save her sister, although some hints in the book’s big finale leave things open to interpretation. The most memorable segments of the book for me were those where Katy spends time with her sister, and there are some genuinely touching, but sad moments to be had from these characters.

While the book builds up a little slower than other works by the author, once we reach the final act, all hell breaks loose, and fans of Wrath James White won’t be left wanting in terms of bloodshed and general grotesquery. While it may not be as extreme as, say The Resurrectionist or Succulent Prey, it is a far from tame ending to an altogether excellent book.

Wrath James White never disappoints, and Hardcore Kelli is another in a long line of books that cement his reputation as the go-to author for extreme horror. It is a book that takes all of his strengths (great characters, subtext, inventive gore) and puts them all together into a new and different genre (superheroes), resulting in a fun read with a big heart and a bigger body count.   

RICHARD MARTIN

Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.

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