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Review by
Drew Williams
Michael Laimo
Mass Market PB
ISBN 0843953144

After moving his family to the quaint village of Ashborough, Dr. Michael Cayle discovers that the town harbors a deep and deadly secret. A race of creatures known as Isolates holds the town's population hostage, forcing the inhabitants of Ashborough to offer periodic sacrifices and generally do their bidding.

I should say from the start that I really wanted to like Michael Laimo's sophomore effort, DEEP IN THE DARKNESS. His first novel, ATMOSPHERE, was one of the strongest debut novels I've read in a while and made Laimo a writer to watch. So it was with a bit of anticipation that I waited for Laimo's second novel.

I wish my wait would have been better rewarded. DEEP IN THE DARKNESS is a rather uninspired novel that never seems to get out of first gear. The plot is rather ho-hum, and the characters seem to have the emotional depth of a cardboard box, especially the main character and narrator, Michael Cayle. For one who is at the center of a host of "uncanny" things, Michael remains blithely uncurious concerning the weirdness that he has inherited with his move to Ashborough. Upon inspecting the office of the Doctor he has replaced, Michael discovers vials of disease infected blood, including one marked Bubonic Plague.
His response: "I wonder where he had gotten them from and what they could be used for. Was it possible that he'd had some patients who'd come down with the diseases?"

Come down with the Bubonic Plague?

Michael is about as curious in finding the plague at his new house as he would if he had discovered a stack of the old doc's Playboys, with mild interest and a promise to look deeper into the matter in the morning.

Later, when a pair of near dead deer shows up in his tool shed, Michael doesn't think it necessary to call someone in authority. I guess he thinks stuff like this happens all the time in his new digs; after all, people might be coming down with the black death there.

It's not too difficult to excuse a plot hole here and there, but there are enough holes in DEEP IN THE DARKNESS to drain pasta. For example, who and what the Isolates are is never really explained, all we know is that they isolate the town from the outside world. Does this mean no one ever escapes? Kids don't get to go to college or go on spring break? No family trips to Disneyland? It's also never made clear why a periodic sacrifice of a near dead squirrel keeps these cannibalistic creatures from taking a bite out of the good folks of Ashborough (as well as the good folk in the neighboring counties which begs the question as to just how isolated the Isolates are) . The Isolates also seem to have telepathy, speak and understand English, have some human DNA, and can do a whole slew of other neat tricks but they can't tend to their own wounded! Thus, Michael has to serve as their doc in a box.

While the plot is unconvincing, the characters range from bland to lifeless. Even the most intense emotional exchanges come off obtuse and can be measured for intensity by the use of profanity (Hint - when characters say fuck it's important). As Michael begins to realize that he's knee deep in some weird shit he has this exchange with Phil, his closest neighbor:

At the end of the path, Phil turned and yelled, "Michael, I've got some very sad news for you. You're never gonna see your car again."
My heart leaped up into my throat, one powerful beat at a time. I wanted to cry, and might have if it hadn't been for the sudden anger swallowing my fear.
'Fuck you, Phil. I thought you were a friend. You fucking used us, now we're screwed like the rest of the poor bastards in this goddamned town.'

DEEP IN THE DARKNESS is rife with awkward passages and clunky prose. After watching a woman die on his lawn, Michael says:

I sat there against the house for an indeterminate amount of time knowing very well that someone, my family included, might nonchalantly stumble upon this horrific scene - items brought in loving arms would undoubtedly drop to the ground.

Oh man.

I'm going to chalk up DEEP IN THE DARKNESS as a victim of the sophomore slump, and look forward to Michael Laimo's next offering. Laimo is still a fresh and exciting voice and has the talent to write a kick ass horror novel.

Unfortunately DEEP IN THE DARKNESS is not it.

This one gets 2 book wyrms.


This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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