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The Themes of Badlands by Gary Kruse

Badlands is the debut novel by English author Gary Kruse. I am delighted to have him discuss the themes of Badlands here. Thank you for making the time to stop by, Gary. Over to you.

Despite their outward differences, at their heart most of my stories are about family conflicts and Badlands is no different.

On the surface, it’s a dark suspense tale about Megan “Willow” Rae who, six years after running away from home, finally returns. The motive for her return is a cry for help that she thinks has come from her sister Ellie, but when she gets home, Ellie is missing and involved in a local scandal.

As Willow unpicks the pieces of Ellie’s life, she is deceived, betrayed and finally left at the mercy of a sinister conspiracy, and while it is the scandal and Ellie’s disappearance that drives the plot, as it unfolds, Willow has to face the family conflicts that drove her to run away.

Family problems also drive the actions of the book’s two major antagonists; The Reverend Richard Goddard and his enforcer, the burn-scarred hooded assassin, Raven.

Goddard’s road to hell began with his drug-addicted brother, Matthew, and it was his attempts to control the quality of drugs that Matthew was using that opened the doors to Goddard’s eventual rise as the king-pin behind the conspiracy.

Raven is mourning the death of her family in the fire that left her scarred, and her desire to seek justice and revenge for their deaths drives her to ever more heinous acts of murder and torture.

All three main characters also hide their true identity behind a real or metaphorical mask.

Since running from home, Willow has ditched her real name. Willow was the nickname given to her by her best friend Zoe and as Willow she’s changed her appearance and her outlook on life. She comes home as a completely different person, but she cannot hide from her past, no matter how wild her hair or how many tattoos she gets.

Goddard’s true nature as a manipulator, schemer and deceiver is hidden by his surf-and-salvation persona and his past as Reverend in St. Agnes. Hiding behind the dog-collar and his mix of eastern & western mysticism, Goddard comes across as warm, friendly and engaging to all who meet him, but scratch the surface and a very different man is revealed.

Raven has shrouded herself in leather coats, hoods, masks and biker’s leathers. She never lets her face be seen in public, and, like Willow, has ditched her real name behind an assumed persona, one that has become the face of Goddard’s network. To their enemies, the name Raven is one to be feared and respected, but to Willow, the name Raven has a very different, and very personal meaning.

For me as a writer, family is perhaps the ultimate source of conflict. I’m fortunate to come from a stable home, but I know so many who aren’t, and I see their character forged in the fires of these family conflicts for good and for bad.

Ultimately, we can’t choose our families. But we can choose our identities.

And in a nutshell, I guess that’s what Badlands is really about.

Badlands is available to order in eBook & Paperback from Amazon.

The Author

Gary Kruse writes dark suspense, SF & horror about people on the edge of society struggling to find who they are, where they come from and where they’re going. He has won and been shortlisted for several short story competitions and his debut novel Badlands is due for release on 21st January 2022.

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