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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Void
Teri A. Jacobs
Leisure/ $5.99/ 248 pages
ISBN: 0843950242 (June 2002)

Cover THE VOID starts out alternating between two characters' worlds. There's Xibalba (a place that makes all seven circles of hell look like Disneyland) that apparently exists in the mind of a particularly nasty psychokiller who calls himself Coatl (Snake). He has an extremely unfortunate fixation on ancient Mesoamerican mythology. The other world is that of Leslie Starr, an avant garde Cincinnati photographer who, we quickly discover, is not exactly an average resident of southern Ohio. Her dreams are invaded by The Dark Man and his terrors, she has the ability to predict storms, and runs into ghosts and chats with them. Leslie's been intentionally apart from her family for seven years when she receives word her lifelong friend Charlotte has been horribly murdered and her beloved cousin Sam has been accused of the deed. (WE know Coatl did it -- and a lot more.) Leslie has to go home.

Leslie's chapters -- the normal world, remember -- are more disorienting than the Coatl's. A reader needs a little more reality and character establishment before plunging into the equivalent of madness. While demonic voices speak to Leslie and unseen eyes bore into her, the reader is inundated with a great deal of information: Dad Starr died a unnatural death and warned Leslie of an evil invading town; a "Mexican Indian" named (I kid you not) Lone Wolf was a part of her childhood; the reason for Leslie's separation from her family was an incestuous rape, no, wait, it was stranger than that; Sam was some sort of psychic spy in the army, no, it's worse than that; Andy, Leslie's brother has bad dreams, well he sees the ghost of their witchy great-aunt Josephine, too. There are meanders back to Dad's spooky stories and to spookier stories about the great aunt. And, exhaustingly, there's more. Jacobs authorial energy is certainly not to be doubted.

Meanwhile Coatl has equal space to more leisurely torture and mutilate, talk to his dark gods and take their orders, hang out with demons, have a demon hang out inside him, and learn he has take Leslie Starr to Xibalba and hand her over to the Bat God.

In Chapter Nine the separate worlds merge and Jacobs starts planting a few clues that help you get a grip on the uncoiling plot. You also realize Coatl is more than a psycho. Things get weirder than shit from this point on, but you can stay in the saddle for the bizarre ride.

Eventually Lone Wolf (L.W.) shows up to explain the underlying myths. (You know the bit: The protagonist finally finds/deciphers some ancient tome/scroll. "It says here, Billy, that [insert ancient wisdom or myth]..." "Golly, Professor! This whole thing is beginning to make sense now!") Since Aztec/Toltec/Maya myths are damned close to incoherent to start with -- even if you know something abut them -- this helps even if it is a bit of info dump.

Things then get weirder than the weird shit, but you are compelled to continue reading THE VOID because it's highly unlikely you've ever read anything quite like it. It's not an easy read, the plot is ambitious and the author assumes the reader's intelligence. This assumption is, of course, not always true.

I came away with some niggling questions that may, or may not have been answered. I discovered some initial puzzles were simply the result of me reading too quickly. Coatl independently makes his pact with the powers of darkness and is introduced to the Popul Voh. Later Jorge seems to be the catalyst. If the gods want Leslie alive, then why does Jorge want her dead? Why is Bonnie's death so easily accepted and not mourned? If Sam is suspected, then why hasn't the sheriff checked with the service and discovered he is AWOL? I was never clear about the nature of the shadows. Most of all, why, when Leslie was around Coatl in his "normal" persona, didn't she *know* who he was?

Still, you can hardly fault an author for being ambitious and intelligent. We see far too many who aspire to nothing and are stupid. Plus Teri A. Jacobs already possesses a unique and genuine voice. Although there are some odd grammatical choices here and there, her language is rich and her descriptive powers are (sometimes outrageously) vivid. And, importantly for a horror writer, she is disturbingly imaginative.

VERDICT: THE VOID could use a tune-up. Its novelistic mechanics don't keep up with Jacobs' super-charged imagination. At the same time it's also original and gutsy (no pun untended) and with more craft and less chaos, Jacobs could be a real contender. -- Paula Guran (Orginally appeared in DarkEcho #12)

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.