DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Split Image
Ron Faust
Forge/218 pp./$20.95
ISBN 0-312-86011-0

Review by Hank Wagner

(This suspense novel, although not horror, is still darkly recommended.)

Spending a weekend in a friend's cabin in Wisconsin, frustrated playwright Andrew Neville decides to go bow hunting to pass the time. Neville manages to wound a deer and track it through the woods, only to find a stranger standing over his prey. Neville challenges the stranger, who calmly maintains it's a different deer. Neville continues to insist it is his kill, but the stranger dismisses his increasingly frantic assertions. This enrages Neville, who abruptly attacks the man with a hunting knife, slitting his throat. Composing himself, Neville leaves the woods after attempting to erase all signs of his presence there.

Watching the papers for news of the killing, Neville is surprised to discover his victim is actually John Dempsey, an old acquaintance from his early days in the theatre. Neville brazenly attends the funeral, and introduces himself to Dempsey's widow, Claudia. They are attracted to each other, and Claudia invites him to stay on for a few days. Neville agrees, and slowly insuates himself into Claudia's life. Neville gradually takes over his victim's very existence, even coming to resemble Dempsey physically. Neville's new life is threatened, however, by the presence of Roland Schiess, a private investigator hired by Dempsey's parents, who suspect Claudia and Neville conspired to kill their son. Scheiss plays an unsavory Porfiry to Neville's Raskolnikov, eventually forcing Neville to strike back.

Whether he's writing political thrillers like In the Forest of the Night (1992), suspense/comedy like Blue Moon (1994), or straight suspense like Split Image, Faust always delivers. In Neville, Faust has created a complex character whose first person narration will keep readers turning pages in sick fascination. Faust's exploration of duality is also fascinating, as Neville takes over not only Dempsey's life, but his work, a play which he subtly rewrites and passes off as his own (ironically, it brings him a measure of fame he never enjoyed on his own). Neville's calm acceptance of his murderous act and his usurpation of the trappings of his victim's existence are chilling. The cat and mouse game between him and Roland Scheiss is an added bonus, as it precipitates many of the macabre happenings that take place in the final third of the book.

Neville's understated narrative lulls readers, giving the later events of the book more power. Readers know Neville is laying the seeds of his own destruction, but will be surprised at how those seeds bloom -- Neville is undone in truly spectacular fashion by a force of nature he thought he had tamed. Give Split Image and the rest of Faust's canon a try -- you won't be disappointed. -- Hank Wagner

Guest reviewer Hank Wagner, always a prolific reader, is also one of the most prolific reviewers in horror. He has been the chief reviewer for the Overlook Connection Catalog, has reviewed for the DarkEcho newsletter, Cemetery Dance, Horror, Nova Express, Wetbones, and for many other publications.

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