Genre: Adult Horror
Publisher: Sapphire Star Publishing
Release date: April 4 2013
Source: e-book from publisher
In a word: finely paced plotting, graphically descriptive, engaging characters and a terrifying and deadly light…
Why is it that stories rooted in Biblical legend can scare the bejesus out of me, but I can read books about vampires and werewolves all day long with nary a goose bump? There’s something unsettling about the devil, probably because of his religious affiliations. Debut novelist Mike Pace cuts to the heart of this fear with this top-notch horror story about what happens when the devil decides to visit a small town.
Here’s a quick run-down on the plot: In the small (and very conservative) town of Cumberton, Maryland, Reverend Jimmy Starr has convinced the town officials to relocate a 350-year-old cemetery so that he can build a dormitory for his fundamentalist Christian college, Starr College. Unfortunately, an old and very dangerous box is unearthed during the construction, and once it is opened, bad things start happening to the townspeople of Cumberton. And I do mean bad.
After a seemingly stable co-ed named Jill inexplicably drowns herself in Chesapeake Bay, Sheriff Estin Booker and visiting homicide detective Anna Tucci begin to investigate Jill’s death. But Jill is just the beginning. Soon people begin dropping like flies, and all the deaths appear to be suicides. But to Estin and Tucci, the clues add up to something else entirely. With the help of an English Lit professor named Harvey, O’Hara the old town eccentric, and even Reverend Starr himself, they begin to piece together a frightening picture of what’s really happening. Can Estin and Tucci fight the devil, and win? You’ll just have to read the book to find out!
I got so many Stephen King vibes while reading Dead Light, from the small town setting to the eccentric and quirky characters to the stomach-churning visceral horror. Pace doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to describing each gruesome death, and what makes it all the more horrific is that the deaths themselves aren’t supernatural in nature at all. The author has a talent for building a sense of dread. Before each person dies, they all experience the same things: the smell of burnt cookies, a stinging scratch on the back of their neck, and a pulsing light, followed by a frightening vision of someone from their past. So when Tony suddenly smells burnt cookies, you know what’s coming.
I loved all the characters, but I have to say my favorite was Tucci, the brash and tough-speaking detective from Baltimore, who unwittingly ends up helping with the investigation. Estin Booker can’t stand her at first, as she criticizes and makes fun of the small-town characters of Cumberton. But she proves to be a smart cop, and as they get nearer to the truth about why so many people are committing suicide, she and Estin get closer as well. Tucci’s got her own tragic past, mostly told through flashbacks, and it makes her more likeable. I was pleased to see a female character that doesn’t fit the usual norms in fiction.
The author alternates his present-day story with flashback chapters that take place in the 1660s and partially explain the mystery behind the wooden box and how it came to be buried in the cemetery. I thought he did a great job with these chapters, and even though I felt they were a bit too spread out, they were important to the reader’s understanding of Lucifer’s Light, the blinding flash of light that has escaped from the box. He also uses flashbacks with some of the key characters to explain their feelings of guilt that lead them to commit suicide.
A couple of things didn’t quite work for me, like the mysterious ice cream cones that keep appearing at the crime scenes, a reference to Tucci’s past that probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but ended up feeling forced; and a couple of misleads about the case suggesting mass drug use and subliminal messages that were just confusing. But these are small things in an otherwise tightly crafted story.
Pace makes a tongue-in-cheek moral statement about sex and death, since several of the characters meet their demise after having forbidden (to the fundamentalist church) sex. He also gives Tucci and Estin a firm disbelief in the supernatural, so it takes them a while before they start to believe that the deaths are connected to the light that’s escaped from the box. The final showdown between good and evil takes up the last quarter of the book, but by that time you’ll be turning the pages as quickly as possible to find out what happens.
Dead Light is a novel of Biblical proportions, literally! If it’s the dark you’re afraid of, you ain’t seen nothing’ yet. As the Dead Light’s victims say right before they die, “Beware the Light.”
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Coming up next, don’t miss my interview with Mike and your chance to win an e-book of Dead Light!