The Wide Game by Michael West: Top-Notch Terror

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Author Michael West has exceeded himself on this re-release of his first novel, The Wide Game. When this book was originally published it was only 249 pages long and had (presumably) a huge amount cut by the publishing house. Weighing in at a full 395 pages you get a lot of bang for your bucks in this Scare-ground ride of a book.

I will admit to being a huge fan-boy of Mr West’s work since “discovering” him on Goodreads. He has leapt onto the shelf of my favourite authors and will no doubt remain there. I first read Cinema of Shadows and after getting hooked on his writing style and the type stories he wrote, I started devouring everything I could read by the man.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Michael West will become as popular and as renown as Stephen King. There is a point in the book that is an apparent nod to King’s Pet Sematary and quite possibly to Salem‘s Lot. Not to mention a big “wink” to Children of the Corn. He definitely has that same “cinematic” touch that KIng has perfected over the years and Michael is the only other writer who can startle me so much.

He is that good.

The Wide Game introduces us to Paul Rice who has returned with his wife of six years, and their two children, to his childhood home of Harmony, Indiana for his ‘Class of 88’ high school reunion. Unfortunately for Paul this will not be a loving walk down memory lane. It will be a nightmarish “reliving” of the terrifying 1988 Wide Game.

The Wide Game is based on local Indian customs. The indigenous tribe in the Harmony area were called (oddly enough) Miami Indians and they were the “bringers of the corn” to Harmony. The game is a race through the corn fields that surround the town. Each year the Senior Class pays a fee to enter the race. Who ever wins the race (the finishing line is a flooded quarry) gets the “pot” and this year it is a thousand dollars.

Amazingly the Wide Game has a bloody history. Previous contestants have died or killed themselves. Or vanished. Despite the infamy connected to the game high school students participate in the race every year.

We get to meet a young (and old) Robby Miller, who we’ve met before in other Harmony books.  His high school years were split between school and working part-time as a paramedic for the towns fire department. We also meet Deidra, Paul’s old flame and first love. We follow the class and the main participants of the game and watch as the events spiral out of control and culminate in a horror filled night of demonic scares and death.

Paul has lived with the ghosts of his classmates deaths and a love for Deidra that has never gone away. He must face his past;  his demons and Deidra.

Michael West has once again taken us to Harmony, Indiana and scared the bejeezus out of his faithful readers. The action moves with all the deadly purpose of a runaway steam train. A train that is full of menace, death, demons, and fear. Like his other books, I could not stop reading this tale and at times I gripped the edges of the book with white knuckles while my eyes raced down the page. I can also attest to the fact that this book actually instigated a nightmare while I was reading about Paul and his classmates.

If you have not encountered Mr West’s superior horror fiction, I implore you to do so. Right now.

This is a full 5 star stunner of a book.

Author Michael West and a Colony Bay resident.
Author Michael West and a Colony Bay resident.

The Devil Inside (2012): Demons, Demons Everywhere

Directed by William Brent Bell (Stay Alive , Sparkle and Charm)  who co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Peterman (Stay Alive) The Devil Inside is the latest in a long run of ‘found footage films’ which have been presented as ‘documentaries.’

Considering that this film opened theatrically on 6 January 2012, it is pretty amazing that the film has garnered over 101 millions dollars gross profit to date. The film was made on a budget of 1 million dollars. By anyone’s calculations, that is an excellent return of investment.

The producers of The Devil Inside, were very clever in their marketing campaign and ‘lack’ of preview screenings for critics. This ensured a strong opening, so strong in fact that they knocked Tom Cruize’s latest Mission Impossible sequel off it’s three week run at first place. Despite the strong opening, word of mouth soon decimated the numbers of folks who wanted to see the film. They dropped a very impressive 76% in their audience viewing figures by the following weekend.

I downloaded the film and watched it this afternoon. I was surprised to find that I rather liked it. After the bad press this film got from critic’s retroactive reviews, I was expecting a complete mess of a film. It was a little disorganised, to be sure, but it wasn’t that bad.

The film opens with with a 9-1-1 call and footage from a 1989 murder scene. The first few moments deal with a multiple murder that is covered by local television news and we get to see the police comb the area for clues. The film then jumps forward about twenty-one years and we meet the daughter of the woman who murdered the three people whose corpses we met at the very beginning of the film.

Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) is the daughter of Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley). Maria, we learn, killed the people who were from the Catholic Church and were attempting to exorcise her. It went, obviously, very wrong. Maria is moved to Rome to be cared for by the Church’s medical facilities.

Isabella is taking part in a documentary being shot by Michael Schaefer (Ionut Grama) and they are going to Rome to meet momma Maria.  After arriving in the Vatican city, Isabella joins an exorcism theory class being taught by a Priest to a roomful of theological and psychiatric students. In a move that can only be translated as a huge sign post, the padre circles the last category of his lesson which is Multiple Demonic Possession.

The only thing the priest did not do was to smack the circled word with a pointer and yell, “This is important! I will be asking questions after the class.” We, the audience, see that this ‘important’ possession is going to feature later in the film.

After the theology class, Isabella joins a small group of novice priests and other theology students and they  talk about Exorcism‘s and how you cannot really learn anything about them in a classroom setting. Two of the priests, Ben (Simon Quarterman) and David (Evan Helmuth) are best described as ‘renegade” men of the clergy. Both the men feel that the Church doesn’t do enough in helping folks who are possessed.

Father’s Ben and David have already performed a number of Exorcism’s that the Church had turned down. Both men have the strength of their convictions and take Isabella with them to an on-going exorcism that they have been doing.  While they are performing the ritual on the possessed girl, Michael is filming it and the possessed girl knows Isabella’s name. The girl also walks on the wall and suspends herself over the bed.

Convinced that Ben and David know what they are doing, she asks them to look at her mother as the Church is refusing to perform the ritual on her. After tricking their way into the medical wing where Maria is being held, they set up their equipment and start the ritual.

Maria is possessed by more than one demon and she reacts very badly to the exorcism. After things calm down, they are thrown out of the hospital. Both Ben and David are excited about their ‘findings.’ Ben says that the Vatican can’t deny Maria help now.

Unfortunately that is precisely what the Church does and now they want Maria to be taken back to the US. Meanwhile, David is acting very strangely, eating in the dark dining room and baptizing a baby a little too long in the holy water. Isobella is acting strangely and everyone is upset and stressed out.

The police are after David for attempted murder and he kills himself, Isobella goes into some sort of fit and Michael and Ben rush her to the hospital. While Isobella is ‘resting’ in her room, Ben and Michael are talking to a nurse about how she is doing, the nurse replies that Isabella is stable and resting.

While the nurse is talking to Ben, we see staff rushing to Isabella’s room. She has attacked a nurse and it is taking several members of staff to try and control her. She eventually fights her way out of the room, only to be brought down to the floor. While she is lying face down on the floor, she gets bent so far backwards that it’s amazing that she isn’t broken in half.

Ben and Michael get Isabella in the car and drive to get help to exorcise her. While Isabella attacks Ben, Michael takes his seatbelt off and deliberately crashes the car at high speed.

Fade to black.

Reading various reviews on this film, I noticed quite a few critics slammed the ‘very quick ending’ and pretty much panned the entire film. I felt the ending worked well with what was going at that point in the film.

My problems with the film were many, but, not enough for me to not enjoy it. One problem I’ve already written about and that was the ‘this is important’ clue about Multiple Demonic Possession.  A little too obvious for my tastes, something akin to killing a fly with a sledgehammer.

It was also obvious from the first time we meet Father’s Ben and David, that their motives for helping Isabella aren’t for the most selfless reasons in the world. Ben wanted to prove the Church wrong and David wanted to show that they, he and Ben were right. I know that at first glance, it seems like they want the same thing, but there is a difference between the two men and their hidden agendas.

At the end of the film, after they attempted to drive Maria’s demons out, everyone who was in the room became ‘infected’ so to speak. David, Isobella, and Michael all begin changing, with David bring the most obvious and quickest. The film makers also deviated from the ‘verse’ of exorcism films.

From the very first Exorcist in 1973, the demon (or demons) attack only the people directly performing the ritual, the priests. In The Devil Inside the demon attacks everyone in the room with a primary target of death for each person it possesses.

The film was meant to look like a documentary cobbled together from ‘found footage’ and it is to the film’s detriment. Too many other films have used this format and it is rapidly turning into a stilted cliché. It is also just one more film to add to the growing list of Exorcist films already out there.

The Last Exorcism (which actually did the documentary theme a hell of a lot better), The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Rite. All of which were, in my humble opinion, better films.

The Devil Inside was choppy, uneven and the ending did indeed feel a bit rushed, but that did not bother me as much as the illogical direction that the film veered off into. It did have a fair share of scares and creepy scenes in it, but not enough to warrant any further viewings.

The cynic in me believes that the producers decided to abstain from critic previews and teaser trailers to hype up the films opening weekend. This strategy appeared to have worked very well by their box office receipts. I can see why audiences were ultimately disappointed by this film. But really, it doesn’t come near qualifying as the worst film in 2012.

Of course I could be wrong.

Nightmare by Stephen Leather – A Nightingale Sings

I have to start by saying that I came late to this party. The book Nightmare is the third in what is apparently going to be a long and enjoyable series. Nightmare begins after book two Midnight has ended.

(God, I am so clever…not)

Nightmare opens with Jack Nightingale, ex-cop, private eye and inheritor of his biological satanic worshipping father’s house and it’s occult book collection being woken up and arrested at an obscenely early time in the morning. *How’s that for summing up the main character in a single sentence.*

Nightingale is accused of shooting a black gang member in the back of the head in Brixton. Their evidence is the clinically brain dead victim saying Nightingale’s name while he is in a coma. And so begins Jack Nightingale’s third adventure in a world inhabited by bad people, demons and ‘experts’ in the occult.

The beauty of this book was that I could pick it up and read it without having read the other two books in the series. The action moves quickly and snappily. I immediately got connected with all the main characters and found myself cheering Jack on.

Stephen Leather is one of those unique authors that has that all important ear for dialogue. I would go so far as to put him in the same category as Elmore Leonard, who is a master  at dialogue. Leather’s characters talk like real people. And more importantly, since most of them live and work in London, sound like they belong there.

English: Elmore Leonard, Miami Book Fair Inter...
English: Elmore Leonard, Miami Book Fair International, 1989 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He also has gotten the ‘gangster speak’ down pat. At one point in the book Jack has to deal with a drugs gang and the lingo is spot on.

The book is busy. Not only does Jack have the police trying to pin a murder on him he also has a drugs gang who want him dead. He has two demons who want his soul and want him to make him pay up for a deal made in book two Midnight.

I felt that Jack Nightingale could be a real as you or me. He drinks, he smokes and he loves Chinese food. He is also smart and resourceful. But above and beyond all that, he carries on with his life and job despite having more crap dumped on top of him than most people could endure.

Unfortunately the ending, which was nail biting up to a point, yanked me right out of the moment. It was a device I had seen used in the films Bedazzled and Constantine .  Okay, it worked for the story, but, if I’ve seen it before it takes a little bit out of the punch.

Still it was not enough to put me off the story, it just took a little out of the ending. It definitely did not put me off enough to not want to read the first two books in the series and want another new one to read. Preferably sooner rather than later.

So If I used a star system (I don’t), this book would have still gotten a good four and a half stars out of five. But since I don’t use a star system, I’ll just say it’s a flipping good read and one that I would recommend to anyone.