THE POSSESSION By Michael Rutger (Zaffre, $A29.99)
The Anomaly by Michael Rutger (pseudonym for Michael Marshall Smith) was one of my favourite fun reads of 2018. A wild conspiracy novel involving some strange artefacts in a lost cave in the Grand Canyon, it gripped your attention all the way from the opening page through to the neat insider reference to Smith’s other books on the last page. It was a terrific read.
The Possession continues the adventures of American myth and legend investigator Nolan Moore and his team, and opens with them still recovering from the shocking events they encountered in The Anomaly. Desperately in need of new material for their floundering YouTube series, The Anomaly Files, they head to the small town of Birchlake to check out some old, mysterious walls, which exist there. Similar ancient walls can be found around the world, but little, if anything, is known about them. It is pretty tenuous material for a show, but what Nolan has not told the rest of his team is that his ex-wife, Kristy, is also in town investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl, Alaina Hixon, who is accused online of being a witch. In short fashion, the missing Alaina turns up claiming that she had died, but “is now back”. Now Nolan and his team are investigating the mysterious walls, which look increasingly weird, and the reappearance of Alaina. Not surprisingly the two investigations sort of come together in a strange way.
The Possession is an engaging read. Rutger gradually builds the suspense, with strange things happening to the crew and around the town. Phones mysteriously ring, dark figures appear in their peripheral vision, loud noises come out of cupboards and one of the team’s members wanders around as if possessed. The threats become greater as the novel progresses and the book ends with a tense, spooky confrontation.
As with The Anomaly, Rutger mixes humour and suspense in good measure and the cynicism of Nolan’s team members adds to the pleasure. The residents of Birchlake are a well-crafted creepy bunch, with most of them hiding secrets or acting mysteriously. Rutger’s writing is interesting, although he does have a tendency to info-dump at times. He does, however, have a nice turn of phrase, and regularly comes up with evocative descriptions, as in this portrayal of one of the locals:
“A tall, gaunt man in his sixties sat on a stool at the end of the counter. There was no glass in front of him. He turned to look at her. Cloudy gray eyes, bags that spoke of a liver past its best, unnaturally dark hair scraped back from his forehead. He looked … like the kind of guy you always see in small-town bars.”
It is all quite enjoyable, although not quite as good as The Anomaly. The pacing is more uneven this time around and the threats to Nolan and his team seem more intangible than in The Anomaly and therefore not as scary. Unlike with the earlier book, I was never concerned that they would not all make it out alive. Nevertheless, it is a very entertaining read and I keenly await Rutger’s next book.
Four stars out of five!
Thanks to Allen & Unwin and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.