My stumble on Stainless Steel Droppings brought me my first book challenge.  I love gothic stuff and feel a guilty magnet toward the macabre.  So, a challenge to immerse myself in the dark side was too irresistible to declare my usual, “Oh, maybe next time.”

I accept Peril the First as my challenge from September ’til Halloween and to this I commit the following novels:

1.  The Historian —- Elizabeth Kostkova   (2006) 

2.  The Glass Books  of the Dream Eaters —-  Gordon Dahlquist   (2006)   

3.  The 5th Witch —- Graham Masterton    (May 2008)

4.  The Ghost of Flight 401 ——  John G. Fuller    (1976)  

5. Merrick ———-  Anne Rice  (2000)  

I think these are lot of  scary reads to indulge in, in just two months — a lot for someone whose choice of reading depends upon the mood at the moment.   For me, picking up a certain genre contrary to my reading mood is difficult in itself.  But then, that’s why it is a challenge! : )

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This book is best read alone, in a cold room under a giant comforter for several hours straight.

Author :  Scott Smith

Copyright: 2006

Publisher: Vintage Books

Published Date :  February 26, 2008

ISBN-10: 0307390276

ISBN-13: 978-0307390271

Paperback:  384 pages

Two young American couples are on their summer vacation in Cancun, Mexico.  They befriend other tourists, one of who plans to make a sidetrip to look for his brother at an archeological site.  Bored by inaction, they volunteer to accompany him for the chance to trek and see the Mayan ruins and the dig.  What starts out as a fun trip transforms into a nightmare from which there seems to be no escape.

As a writer of horror and suspense,  Scott Smith does know his stuff.  He has very good techniques that build up suspense, anticipation, and shock so that you have the strong compulsion to read ’til the very end.

For me, reading this book is like riding a roller coaster.  The first 100 pages is a slow ride to the top with occasional minor jerks to keep you interested.  Once there, the action starts and you get to taste the first belly-flopping fright.  After that there is no let-up, as the ride just gets frightfully worse, without recourse to stopping and you can’t help but grip the book, page after page of unputdownable horror.

As you face each hill and think it can’t be any worse, Smith continues to up the ante until the ride coasts gently to a complete stop and the story reaches a good conclusion.

As an aside, Smith’s real forte here is the psychological aspect of the story.  He involves you in the thinking processes of four characters by getting you inside their heads, allowing you to know how they think; so that you know why they cope the way they do, and why things happen from choices dictated by their personalities.  The author lays out how their individual coping mechanisms largely determines the group’s dynamics as the characters try to solve or adjust to their situation.  This psychological angle combined with the paranormal plus Smith’s eloquent yet graphically vivid style, makes this book a winner.

You finish, shaky but elated that you’ve paid well for an exciting fright.  Indeed, you’ll be back wanting more.  So, when the next Scott Smith ride comes to town, you’ll be the first in line.

My Mark :  One hell of a ride! — Outstanding

It’s All Hallow’s Eve tonight___a perfect time to tuck yourself between the covers of a good, scary read. Oooooooo……now to shiver and shake with the ghoulish and the macabre.

But, what can be more chilling than a story with the probability that it could be terrifyingly real?  A story that could happen today, tomorrow, next month or ten years hence but may be percolating secretly under our very noses?

So, chuck the vampires, ghosts, and goblins this year and settle in with The Cobra Event.  It terrified a President*; it will scare the bejesus out of you.

Author : Richard Preston

Release Date : 1997
ISBN : 0-245-40997-3
Pages : 422

A teen-age schoolgirl dies suddenly in bloody, gruesome spasms.  Soon after, previously healthy people succumb violently and inexplicably to the same terrifying end.  Dr. Alice Austen, CDC pathologist, races to identify the killer pathogen…  Thus starts a harrowing investigation  into bio-terrorism.

“Ho-hum”, you’re probably thinking, “…another biotech thriller…not very halloweenish, is it?”  But you want to be scared; and, Richard Preston is no ordinary techno-thriller author.  He writes with the intense objective of rendering us, acutely aware of the genuine, immediate threats facing humanity today.  I feel Preston must have had the urgent need to share his private alarm and agitation; and what more clever way than to couch his facts in a racy, heart-pounding fictional story that’s guaranteed to have mass appeal and thereby higher public awareness and attention to bio warfare.

If you believe in devils, believe in microscopic demons that can transform the world into a living Hell.  Imagine a pandemic of global proportions, the like that can eclipse the horrors of the black plague in the 14th century.  Grave possibilities are magnified to terrifying levels when the threat can be carried out anywhere, by anyone, psychologically imbalanced enough and with the know-how to concoct and release fast-acting lethal viruses, genetically modified to survive modern medicines.

Preston’s incredibly detailed narratives reveal his intimate knowledge and meticulous research in everything he touches on in this book.  One could actually surmise that he has probably dabbled in real autopsies and spied rogue labs.  My edition even has a photo of the baculovirus, the real germs on which this fictional Cobra virus is based on.  In his afterword, “The Reality Behind the Cobra Event”, Preston writes :

“I pursued the subject of biological weapons with the same reporting methods I’ve used for my previous books, which were nonfiction.  The nonfiction roots of this book run deep.”

“The transparent substance I call ‘viral glass’ in this book is an actual material. I have chosen not to give its technical name or describe it too precisely.  I have deliberately distorted and blurred certain key aspects of the bioweapons-making process so as not to publish a deployable recipe.”

“The natural strain of the virus in this book is real, and engineered strains of it have been developed with a broadened host range.  The virus has great peaceful potential because it is so versatile.  Its versatility also makes it a potential weapon.  I have imagined the engineered form of the virus that appears here as Cobra, but it should be taken as one example of a wide range of possibilities that actually exist for the construction of advanced bio-weapons.  The knowledge is public, the techniques are commonplace.  The dark apple hangs on the tree.”

“What is dangerous is human intent…To think that the power of the genetic code is not being bent toward weapons is to ignore the growing body of evidence, the lessons of history, and the reality of human nature.  As Thucydides pointed out, hope is an expensive commodity.  It makes better sense to be prepared.”

So what’s not to be afraid of, if our demons can simply be tank-brewed in an obscure lab in any location___in a top secret military facility, your neighbour’s basement, or even at the back of a delivery van?  The scare is here and it is REAL!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

*“THE BOOK THAT PETRIFIED THE PRESIDENT :  “Mr. Clinton was so alarmed by…THE COBRA EVENT, which portrays a lone terrorist’s attack on New York City with a genetically engineered virus—that he instructed intelligence experts to evaluate its credibility.” — The New York Times

My Mark : Excellent