Sunday, April 10, 2005

Deep in the Darkness

At last, the long-awaited review of Deep in the Darkness by Michael Laimo. As I mentioned when I first ordered the book, I purchased it because I am trying to expand the number of horror writers who I read and this one is a Bram Stoker award finalist. My take on the book is that it has a lot of strengths, and they are sufficient to overwhelm the primary negative.

Ordinarily, bad characters are a kiss of death for a book. Unfortunately, drawing realistic and compelling characters is also one of the most difficult parts of writing. To connect this with Darkness, I must say that I really did not care much for its characters. I think the only reason that this wasn't a more serious drawback for the book was the fact that they weren't really bad (in terms of being unrealistic or inconsistent) characters, just unlikable. I found the main character, a big-city doctor who buys a small-town medical practice from the widow of a doctor who had suffered a mysterious death, to be quite annoying and often rather unmanly. One glaring example of this is when he encounters the corpse of a deer and finds it so overwhelming that he vomits. Now, I understand where someone who encountered a dead, rotting deer for the first time would be disgusted and might turn away, but the way the whole scene was drawn robbed me of any sympathy I might have had for the man. I watched an uncle of mine field dress (as in, remove the insides from a deer in the middle of the woods) a deer he had shot when I was fifteen or sixteen (I then got to drag it the mile out of the woods, being the least senior of the group). The smell wasn't roses, but I would have been pretty embarrassed if I had lost control and threw up. That's what I didn't like about the main character of Darkness: he has a tendency to lose control right when it is most important to retain it.

The beauty of the book, though, was that even though I didn't really care whether the things in the woods got the guy, I had to find out more about them and what their plans were. The element of suspense is one of the most important in a horror novel, and this one had it in spades. I had several "one more chapter" moments, where I was just hoping for even one more revelation in the next couple of pages. The claustrophobic nature of the book is also one of its strengths. The story of a small town terrorized by evil has certainly been done before, and one of the questions that must be dealt with for the main characters is what is keeping them there. Laimo does an excellent job of providing a convincing answer, and even uses it to his advantage to squeeze more tension into the novel.

My overall verdict on the book is that it is an above-average horror novel. It has an excellent plot, good pace and suspense, great mood, and decently rendered, if annoying, characters. I'm glad that it was nominated for a Bram Stoker award, and as of now, I'm rooting for it to win. Of course, I don't know when the awards are finally determined, so it is possible that I might try to squeeze in another book of the list before that date.

If you're looking for a fast-paced, spooky read, go get Deep in the Darkness. You won't be disappointed.


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