At first glance, “The Gatekeeper”, the debut novel by writer and broadcaster Russ Kane can be seen as a supernatural horror story.
However, the book is far more layered and nuanced than that. Yes, it is frightening, but it is also very funny, dark, mysterious and intriguing.
So what has this newly published novel got to do with well-being and mental health? The answer is, surprisingly, a lot.
The plot outline is that every 20 years, the gates of hell open and Lucifer and his hordes attempt to overrun the Earth. To counteract this potential Armageddon, one person on the planet is randomly chosen to be ‘The Gatekeeper’ and must endeavour to close the gates.
Some years they succeed and sometimes they fail. This time the task falls to a jaded, cynical, often worse-for-wear TV presenter called Nick Gold, who hosts a ludicrous ghost-hunting programme, “Nick Gold – Paranormal Detective”.
Gold despises the series, but after five years, has accepted that the income is essential to fuel his dissolute lifestyle.
Gold is presented as a flawed human being. A true anti-hero. He drinks far too much. He has lost any religious belief, despite studying theology at Oxford.
His girlfriend mysteriously died and he is riddled with guilt, angst and considerable self-loathing. It is Gold’s journey, his spiritual awakening, his personal sacrifices that engages you, intertwined with a fast-moving plot that traverses several continents.
Gold’s mental health, at a nadir when his girlfriend dies, gradually becomes stronger. You watch as he grows in stature as a hugely valuable member of society and as a man.
Bit by bit, the bitter cynicism that has haunted him throughout his life is chipped away until he has to face the monumental fact that everything he believed in was, in fact, false.
The questions that author Russ Kane poses here among the mystery and mayhem is “Do we need faith, and is having a belief system a key factor in achieving well-being?” Another is, “How much would you sacrifice to do the right thing?”
Gold, and the hard-bitten American lawyer that he meets, Lesley-Ann Trobe, are the products of our age. They don’t believe in anything.
The lawyer takes on a particularly hopeless case not to pursue justice, but simply, and openly, for the money. Gold continues to make television programmes that he inwardly loathes, again for pure financial gain.
They are both nihilists, bruised and battered by the lives they have led. It is only when they are faced with the seemingly impossible series of events that they encounter around the world that they begin to attain their true potential.
This is a parable of redemption, sacrifice and ultimately the power of love. How greatness can be achieved from very humble beginnings.
How the quest for material things can be replaced by the quest for honesty and truth. Some say that rather than being a supernatural horror story, “The Gatekeeper” is a deeply religious tale of sacrifice and redemption.
As with any work of fiction, the text is open to many interpretations. Is it a parable of modern times? Certainly, for it demonstrates how technology has changed our world in ways its inventors never even dreamt of.
How we are all slaves to the endless onslaught of multi-platform media and how this directly affects our well-being. The phone, once a genteel way of conducting a conversation, is now the very centre of our lives, controlling us instead of us using it as a tool.
How, in many ways, we have become like The Matrix, constantly plugged-in to a central core. If you disagree, just take public transport or walk down the street and witness this for yourself.
At face value, Russ Kane’s debut novel is a fast-paced, graphic, darkly funny supernatural thriller. Dig deeper and it addresses many of the core issues that mankind struggles with today.
Who are we? Why are we here? Who should we believe in? What are we, as individuals, prepared to do to make the world a better, safer place?
It is no coincidence that Russ Kane is also the co-founder of Men’s Radio Station and Women’s Radio Station, both devoted entirely to mental health and well-being.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the world’s first blog psychologist and founder of Psychreg. As an international mental health advocate, he speaks at various conferences around the world.