Thursday, May 21, 2009
The Dark Man
I first heard about The Dark Man by Mac Schooley from Jeff Gerke, the publisher of Marcher Lord Press. This past September, I interviewed Jeff for this blog and he told me about this book he got about a master of disguises who is tormented by a talking puzzle box. Jeff was extremely excited about the story so it came as little surprise to me when I saw that this book was part of Marcher Lord's second list.
The story itself is set in the not-so-distant future. Christianity has been outlawed in the United States. So the Church has gone underground, meeting where they can when they can. But they have to be extremely cautious. The government is hunting them down and sending them to reclamation centers. And one of the best agents in the business is Charles Graves.
Charles is the aforementioned master of disguise. He can become just about anyone, allowing him to infiltrate Christian cells to bring them down. And yes, he really is tormented by someone he calls "the dark man," an entity that speaks to him primarily through a wooden puzzle box his grandfather made.
Charles and one of his colleagues, a man named Farris (and pronounced Fah-reese), are given a plum assignment: they're to track down and capture one of the last pastors in Texas, a man named James Cleveland. But things go awry for Charles in the middle of the hunt. Suddenly he finds himself in the middle of a crazy adventure that sets his former allies against him. Can Charles survive and save the ones he loves? And can he find out who he really is deep, deep down?
I enjoyed this book, mostly because of Schooley's crackling wit. While the subject matter is familiar (there are plenty of stories about future persecutions out there. I'm even writing one myself right now), Schooley's voice really sings throughout the book. The world he has created is gritty and dirty, sort of what you would expect of a bleak dystopia. And you really do feel for Charles and James as they grapple with the reality they're in.
That said, there were a few things that I didn't like. Schooley presents Charles as being somewhat crazy. When we're in Charles's point of view, we often see him arguing with himself or the dark man about what his next course of action should be. That's a great thing, but the problem is, Schooley utilizes the same method for Julia (Charles's lady friend) and Cotton (Charles's dad). The lessened the impact of when he did it for Charles.
My other complaint was the way that two of the subplots seemed sort of tacked on. The mystery surrounding Charles's brother, Stephen, didn't seem to fit in all that well and when it was finally resolved, I was left a little disappointed. The other plot, which I can't really go into here because it would involve some big spoilers, really felt tacked on. There didn't seem to be any references to it through most of the book. Then, suddenly, toward the end, extra characters pop out of nowhere and the story suddenly revolves around them and what they're trying to do. If they had been mentioned earlier in the book, it may not have been so jarring.
But this is still a great debut novel and I'm certainly looking forward to Schooley's future endeavors.