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on June 24, 2013 :
As a literary critic and a pop culture analyst, I read a vast array of books in most genres both from the dusty shelves of what is called classic or literary and the altogether more tumultuous arena of best sellers. Speaking to the latter, I am often frustrated and annoyed by what sells and makes its way to millions of pairs of eyes seemingly without any editing or consistency or, in some cases, even a sure hand in the language in which it was written. In this sense D.L. Conner’s Night in a Bad Place is a breath of fresh air. The storytelling is immediate and visceral, and yet exquisitely edited with regard to both consistency and language. It was a pleasure to read a book that did not make me extend my willing suspension of disbelief to ignore glaring grammatical and linguistic errors that in some cases distract me to the point of losing the story. On the contrary, Conner’s book was clearly written, and edited with enough care that errors were omitted without losing the sense of immediacy in the story itself.
Without having to issue a Four Alarm Spoiler Alert, I can say that the story was captivating and, in the proper formula for a horror thriller such as this, became increasingly so as it built to a climax that extended almost to the penultimate page of the book, the denouement left short and soothing, not overlong and belabored as seems to be the case in many popular novels. From almost the outset, the reader is thrown into a world that is chaotic and confusing to the extent that quite soon, reading it invokes the experience of war, particularly postmodern war in which there are no clean divisions or easily identified redcoats marching in lockstep over the hill. Danger and death are everywhere and the characters’ reactions to it are as varied as their individual personalities might be. When a handful of soldiers who are where they are for a myriad of reasons begin to encounter a supernatural attack, neither they nor the reader can be sure which parts are just more unpredictable guerilla warfare and which, if any, are something outside human experience. As with any good horror, the monster—or its manifestation—eventually appears in a way that can leave no doubt it is a new enemy, even as its terrible past is revealed in a web of secrets and lies far above the soldiers’ intelligence clearance. The attacks become more ferocious even as those few who do have some information are systematically silenced before they can wholly pass on what they know. Those who survive are still uncertain what they survived and perceive their horrifying encounters through the lenses of their own experience. In the end, we are left wondering whether the survivors’ victory is what it seems, or simply a hiccup in a much larger, more evil campaign.
As a reader, I was at first perplexed by the extensive military and local jargon (Conner has helpfully provided an admittedly succinct glossary following the text), but as the story drew me in, I came to recognize terms that had been used before and felt as if I had been plunged into war beside these soldiers, learning as I went along. In the same type of on-the-ground sensory submersion, characters are developed less by description than by their words and actions, and the reader comes to know them—some more and some less—in exactly the way one might come to know one’s compatriots thrown together by circumstance. The voice of the narrator at times oversteps by wandering into language more associated with Gothic horror, but in the final analysis, it works with the overall story and theme of the novel. Especially noteworthy is the overarching concept—that a monster in a small town in Maine probably stands out as much as an author’s quirky, inappropriate language (you know who I mean, enough said), but in a raw, violent, often terrifying setting, an actual monster of eternal evil might just pass unnoticed until it is too late. Even if the novel were not as well written and carefully executed as I have pointed out, this would be a great read for that concept alone. Read the book somewhere quiet and let the noise invoked by the story itself completely overwhelm you.
(reviewed the day of purchase)