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Review by
Scott N. Nicholson
By David Morrell
CDS Books
ISBN: 0451216776

The title works on two levels: the "creepers," a nickname for the urban explorers who populate David Morrell’s thriller, and the sensation the reader gets as the story unfolds.

Morrell is most famous for his creation of "Rambo" and the Sylvester Stallone movie franchise spawned by his novel "First Blood." Morrell has a reputation for research and authenticity and went to great lengths exploring the lives, habits, and tactics of real urban explorers, who infiltrate abandoned buildings, tunnels, and other structures. Toss in a historic edifice with plenty of secrets, a legend, a little booty, and a little bloody mayhem and you have the recipe for a taut, successful thriller.

Morrell compresses seven hours into 342 pages, accounting for every second of the plot. A master of pacing, Morrell deftly deals out the details and characterization while propelling the reader through the subterranean tunnels and up the rickety stairs of the abandoned Paragon Hotel, where a wealthy, reclusive peeper kept a penthouse. Morrell’s knowledge of the "tools of trade," both tools used by the explorers and those used by the best action writers, pays handsome dividends. The main character, Balenger, is popped from the action hero mold: scarred, a little scared, and able to tap his reserves when the chips are down. Morrell also dips into the tried-and-true formula of "This time it's personal" by weaving Balenger's tortured past into the present storyline.

Morrell treats the violence almost casually, and is not above delivering a surprise blow by unexpectedly erasing a character from the plot line, a nice little trick of playing against thriller conventions and expectations. Action scenes are vivid, with the hotel itself brought to a musty, decrepit life in the reader's mind.

The story behind the novel is interesting in itself. Morrell, tired of his treatment at the hands of major publisher houses (the kind of treatment for which most writers would launch a Rambo-styled attack), entered into a unique agreement with CDS Books, a company new to publishing. Morrell oversaw the promotion of the book and participated in its profit rather than getting the standard advance and subsequent royalties. However, every book should be judged neither by its cover nor its hype, but by its content. And that's where Morrell delivers.

He occasionally gets a little lazy, though. At one point, his characters are under peril of immediate death but spend several pages casually relating the history of the hotel. While this sort of "backstory database dip" is necessary, it is unrealistic, though to be fair there was hardly a better way to deliver the information using shifting, third-person viewpoints. Morrell also relies too heavily on "-ly" adverbs, especially with words like "suddenly" and "quickly" which actually make the action less sudden and quick because another needless word has been inserted.

"Vinnie seemed to suddenly remember he had it"
is not the type of sentence that earns the respect of literature professors.

But no doubt those same literature professors could learn plenty about storytelling, passion, and pacing from Morrell’s fine novel.

Four BookWyrms

This review copyright 2006 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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Scott Nicholson

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