Monday, 2 February 2015

Review: Fade to Black by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus

There’s something not quite right about Jeff Grobnagger. In reading Fade to Black by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus, it’s a feeling that does not diminish the more we enter his world.

The book begins with one of the most visceral, gut clenching openings I’ve read in some time. From the synopsis, what happens should be of no surprise as we descend into Jeff’s dream world. Still, the authors expertly set the scene, painting it with dismal tones of impending doom. When the inevitable climax does arrive, it still feels jarring.

Stalked in his dreams by a hooded assailant, the dreams strike at any time, manifesting as epileptic seizures. The manner in which Jeff is prepared to handle these dreams adds to the reader’s sense that something about him is off. The book is written in the first person point of view so we get some workings into Jeff’s mind, discovering a hermit-like existence and a pathological fear of human connection. This is never explained to satisfaction and adds to the mystery of the character.

The cold open leads the reader back to the waking where Jeff’s story begins. Following the latest seizure and dream-death, Jeff meets Glenn, a bystander who never quite feels like a bystander. Once again, Glenn gives the impression that there is more to him than his revelation of a lost daughter. Glenn believes that Jeff is the key to finding Amity whose fascination with the occult might have led to her disappearance.

It is through Glenn that Jeff is confronted with the possibility his dreams are psychic episodes. Following a real life attempt in his life, Jeff realises he needs to know the truth for his continued existence. As he and Glenn delve into the world of the occult, they encounter characters along the way who give credibility to this suspicion; the mysterious Ms Babinaux who conducts meetings in a limousine and Louise, the private detective whose perpetual smile veils a hidden agenda or a desire to kill Batman.

The story is fascinating, with two pervading themes, the cipher of Jeff’s personality and the sensation that the world around him is not quite what it seems. Every character feels like a projection and the reader travels the dreamscape and the waking world of the plot, waiting for the shoe to drop where all is revealed. Unfortunately that moment does not arrive and is by far, the most frustrating aspect about the book. I enjoyed the read but felt that some revelations could have been made without sacrificing the mystery. It may be too much for some readers to overcome but I intend to see what happens to Jeff in this next outing.

As long as the reader is prepared for the abrupt ending, this is an enjoyable book with clever and sometimes hilarious dialogue. I recommend it for those who love their contemporary thrillers with a surreal twist. Definitely one for the fans of David Lynch.

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