The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

The blog's nonexclusive focus is on literary/mainstream fiction, thriller/crime/spy novels, and science fiction.  While the reviews cover books old and new, in and out of print, the blog does try to direct attention to books that have been recently published.  Reviews of new (or newly reprinted) books generally appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Reviews of older books appear on occasional Sundays.  Readers are invited and encouraged to comment.  See About Tzer Island for more information about this blog, its categorization of reviews, and its rating system.

Entries in Christopher Golden (2)

Friday
Jun092017

Ararat by Christopher Golden

Published by St. Martin's Press on April 18, 2017

An avalanche on Mount Ararat has opened a previously hidden cavern. Adventure writers Adam Holzer and Meryam Karga put off planning their wedding to travel to Turkey in the hope that exploring the cavern will lead to the discovery of Noah’s Ark, which would cap their writing careers and give them a television series to boot.

A Catholic priest who doubles as a scholar of biblical times tells us that one interpretation of ancient texts suggests that Noah had a demon on board the ark along with the world’s critters. Noah might have wanted to hire a security guard to keep intruding demons out, but his lapse serves as the shaky foundation for Ararat.

Adam and Meryam find a structure that seems to be an ark, improbably high on the mountain to have been deposited by a flood, but of even greater interest is the apparent demon in the coffin, improbably well preserved if it’s been there since biblical times. But really, who knows how quickly a demon’s body rots? An international team soon arrives on the scene, including the scholarly priest and a fellow named Ben Walker who has been sent by DARPA under the guise of representing the NSF. Because DARPA, it seems, takes a great interest in demons. Who knew?

Of course, all the researchers who camp in the ark begin to experience anxiety and nightmares (understandable when sharing quarters with a dead demon) and creepy events soon occur. Fortunately, the researchers include expendable grad students who can be counted on to disappear without explanation. But is it the demon who is making them disappear, or does a murderer lurk among the ark’s new residents?

The characters have about as much depth (i.e., not much) as is common in a thriller, but they have enough substance to seem real. Adam is Jewish and Meryam was a Muslim before she became an atheist. I suppose that’s supposed to make them an interesting match, but Christopher Golden doesn’t do anything with their backgrounds after revealing them, other than having a bitter Turkish guide yell at them both.

Nor does he do anything new with a plot that basically combines a lost ark story with a demonic possession story — one of those demons who jumps from person to person like a hot potato. When the demon starts playing musical bodies, the story becomes too ridiculous to be frightening, and too predictable to be interesting. The novel tries to be insightful about the evil that lurks inside all of us (except, apparently, Walker) but the self-realizations that the characters stumble upon are too banal to be rewarding.

Ararat moves quickly. It is easy, light reading and it has some entertaining moments. It simply does not do enough with those moments to overcome its weaknesses.

NOT RECOMMENDED

Monday
Jan202014

Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Published by St. Martin's Press on January 21, 2014

People die in blizzards, usually by crashing their cars, freezing to death, or having heart attacks while shoveling heavy snow. But during the worst blizzard that Coventry, Massachusetts has seen in many years, people die for mysterious reasons, after hearing whispers in the wind and feeling the chill of icy fingers. Twelve years later, people in Coventry still get nervous when it snows, remembering the eighteen deaths. The dead have an impact on the characters who make up the ensemble cast of Snowblind, an imaginative and (pardon the expression) moderately chilling horror novel that makes me glad I no longer live in blizzard country.

Having lost his job and then his wife during the blizzard, Doug Manning has focused his disintegrating life on a series of small-time burglaries. He attracts the suspicion of Joe Keenan, a police detective who is haunted by memories of the child who died in his arms when he was a uniformed cop on patrol during the blizzard. Jake Schapiro, whose little brother died in the blizzard, is now a part-time police photographer. TJ Farrelly, a musician/electrician, was thrown into the arms of the woman who is now his wife during the storm, but that relationship is fraying and their daughter ... well, when another storm comes, their daughter's behavior is unsettling -- as is true of many of the people who interact with the main characters.

I don't go out of my way to read horror fiction but there are good stories to be told in every genre. Snowblind tells a good story. It does so by putting characters first, by creating people who seem real, who are easy to care about, and by letting the reader experience vicarious fear when those characters are endangered or encounter the unknown. Christopher Golden relies on psychological horror rather than blood and gore which, for me, is a more effective means of triggering emotions.

Much of the novel revolves around the low-key domestic dramas in which the central characters are involved. Tension builds slowly as the characters confront the dangers that lurk in the new storm, but it never climaxes in a truly frightening moment as does the best horror fiction. It does, however, reveal the turmoil of the characters as they wrestle with their inner demons, and those provide better drama than the creatures that inhabit the wind and snow.

Sometimes the story is a little obvious -- it is fairly easy to figure out why people are behaving strangely -- and I'm not sure whether Golden meant for the secret to be so easily guessed. I found it difficult to buy into the phenomenon that drives the story, in part because it isn't convincingly described and in part because it is too easily battled in the end, but I liked the characters so much that my reservations about the plot were not a serious obstacle to my enjoyment of the novel.

RECOMMENDED