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Success Stories

by Shaun Jeffrey


ISBN 1 931468 13 3
Published by the Invisible College Press, 2003
296pp, paperback
Retail price $14.95

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Review by Chris Williams

There is a mystery at the centre of this book that I can't reveal. It would be like letting the review-reader know who the murderer was in a whodunit. It's rather a shame that I can't reveal this central idea, as it is the best thing about the book. Shaun Jeffrey had a good idea and decided to write a novel around it. I really think, after reading it, that a short story would have served his idea better.

Our heroine, Chase Black, receives a letter completely out of the blue one day and finds that she has won a house in a quaint village called Paradise. She doesn't remember entering the competition and assumes it is a joke. The next day however, when a large, and somewhat threatening man called Drake arrives in a limousine to take her to her new house, she goes, together with her lesbian friend Jane.

They go to Paradise and find the village is completely surrounded by fog, a fog that has persisted for two years. It turns out that no one enters or leaves the village except in Drake's helicopter. There is a commanding presence in the village called Nigel Moon who greets Chase and gets her to sign a contract for her house.

Over the next couple of days, the strangeness of Paradise becomes more and more noticeable. The inhabitants are either odd or mad and the only food available is provided as "emergency rations" by the military. Only the doctor, Adam White, seems in any way normal. Jane, one of the two strong characters in the book, gets more and more suspicious and unhappy until, in the night when Chase is sleeping, she leaves. Of course, neither Chase nor us believe she has left, but has been "removed".

Meanwhile, two teenage friends, boy and girl, Ratty and Izzy, have accidentally blundered into the fog. Ratty is the other strong character in the book and about the only one who acts in a rational and meaningful way. They manage to avoid the guards in the fog and spend a night in a deserted farmhouse before getting separated the next day. Ratty meets Chase, whose house turns out to be Ratty's grandfather's, before Ratty gets dragged off by Drake. And that is where I leave the plot, for to tell any more would give the game away.

My problem with the novel was that I found it totally impossible to suspend belief. Chase would not have chosen to stay and there is no way she could have continued to convince herself everything was alright really, especially after the man with the knife at the reception committee, the slug pie in the pub and the old man playing with himself in the doctor's waiting room. She would have tried to get out earlier.

Also, it almost felt that Jeffrey wasn't sure what book he was writing. At heart it is a type of John Wyndham science fiction, and the world could certainly do with more of that, but he kept importing elements from more hackneyed horror writing and when someone is served a human turd in the pub, his desire to disgust us was rather too much to the fore.

Mr Jeffrey also needs to exercise more language control. All right, the dogs had "fetid" breath, which came out of their "maws", but please, just use that once, not again and again in a chase scene. Also, I believe Stephen King has copyright on loss of bladder control in horror books, or at least he has managed to turn it into a cliché. Again, while it is no doubt admirable that Jeffrey knows a blood pressure cuff is called a sphygmomanometer, one use would have been enough.

The book just didn't work for me. The basic idea was a good one but Jeffrey got carried away in his working out of it. The writing needs to be tighter to keep the reader gripped and this is a book that should and could have been gripping.

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