Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Dark Side of the City

David Morrell
Headline Book Publishing
312 pages 

It’s an eye-opener to read David Morrell’s bibliography, and realize that he also wrote First Blood, Rambo (First Blood Part II) and Rambo III. A casual interaction with someone who’s an avid reader, reveals that Morrell writes primarily thrillers and is considered the King of Intrigue. Morrell’s latest, Creepers is both a bizarre adventure and a horror story of the non-supernatural kind, rolled into one. 

A bunch of intrepid urban explorers decide to ‘infiltrate’ The Paragon, an abandoned hotel at Asbury Park, New Jersey. The hotel’s past and its creator are as much a source of intrigue as the ahead-of-its-time art deco styling and its temple-like architecture that tapers upwards to a pent house. The protagonist of the story is James Ballenger, who joins this group of urban explorers under the pretext of writing an article about the expedition. However, his story and the undercurrents between the individual characters are revealed layer by layer as the chapters progress. The network of storm drains under the hotel, the immense lobby, the rooms and the unusual items abandoned in some of them – all add to the deepening mystery surrounding The Paragon. At almost every step of the way, the urban explorers find themselves confronted by situations where they would be better off abandoning the expedition. However, they press on, initially out of curiosity, and later out of no other option.

The book is laid out chapters of varying lengths and to Morrell’s benefit, every one of them is a link in the chain. Just when you think you know what’s going on, a new element is introduced to add a twist to the story. Having said that, it must be mentioned that the author keeps a tight leash on the story and doesn’t let the parts and components assume larger identities than the whole. The nucleus of the story remains the Paragon Hotel.

The book is perfect fodder for those who demand more from their average thriller-read. Morrell’s impeccable research comes to the fore once again. Urban Exploration as a concept, has been explained in great detail in this book. The concept is of people who enter and explore abandoned properties. At best, they take pictures, but never break-in, damage or take away any object from the building. However, Urban Exploration is considered equal to trespassing if done without the permission of the owner of the property.

Quite a few nuggets of general trivia are also woven effortlessly into the storyline to ensure you know a little more about random things by the end of the book. 

(edited version of this article was published on February 26, 2006 in dna.sunday)

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