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  • TITLE: Atmosphere
  • AUTHOR: Michael Laimo
  • AWARDS: runner-up Stoker Best 1st Novel


Although this novel uses the same plot accelerant as the one I just finished—Waggoner's Darkness Wakes—it burns hotter, faster, and with more delight. Again, people are falling prey to fugly slaughterfests because they are more interested in manipulating their pleasure centers, regardless of the fallout. Waggoner selects the victim-hero as narrator for immediacy to the vicious actions, but then fragments that intensity with third-person, omniscient viewpoints to—I'm assuming—establish conflict and advance his rube's awakening terror—and the reader's as well—as he stumbles into the numerous plot pits. Author Laimo uses the same narration technique in Atmosphere, except he has gone with an investigator-hero as the quester, a far more ordinary choice when telling a mystery story—and a more reliable one. Both are heavily genre-bound, but the investigator-hero is universally identifiable, therefore easier to assume. There's always logic and usually compassion on his side—and an inordinate dose of bravura, guts, and intuition.

In fact, 31-year veteran New York City Police Detective Frank Ballaro boasts 3 personalities—“the meek tentative one, the truth-seeking detective, [and] the hot-headed aggressor” (Leisure Books PBO, ISBN 0843950412, c.2002, p.136)—as he chews through clues using this unique perspective. The novel opens at night, with Frank coming home tired and cranky, and alleviating any hope of sleep by stepping into an increasing pool of guts and gore spilling out of an alley. He's pretty much a recruitment poster for hard-boiled—I see Robert Ryan's character Jim Wilson from Nicholas Ray's 1952 On Dangerous Ground—but his tough shell has an obvious sweet spot with his teenaged, live-in daughter, Jaimie, who is the Run-Screaming, Save-Me instrument for furthering plot entanglements. He has an assigned partner, but we never meet him except through some rather emotive telephone warnings. Instead, Frank hooks up with his old boss—Chicano Captain Hector Rodriguez—in a frantic, against-all-odds and off-the-blotter marathon of carnage and incomprehension as Techno-music-loving, young males start showing up naked, “mangled like a piece of highway carnage” (p.38), and real, real dead. Lurking around are losers dressed like Bat-Cavers in black, bald heads, and sunglasses, and are considered as the “sadomasochistic murderer[s] running around preying on the penises of teenaged boys” (p.180). But that doesn't explain the weird tunnels as escape hatches sprouting up so conveniently. Or the highly-coveted sphere-like object with its 6 prong-like nipples that the victims gum up with bloody caresses as they bleed out. The bald-domed Goth types—self-labeled as Harbingers—palm these black orbs after expiration of the so-named Suppliers.

They call it Atmosphere.

It gets run back to a neon-blue room with translucent walls somewhere, and, even though it's bonered up these Marilyn-Mansonites and “eclipsed the pleasures of any drug” (p.54), they shove it at a tentacle coming out of the wall called The Giver.

Never mind all the phallic symbolism. It's pretty obvious this thing's not Mork from Ork, huh?

The Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel this year went to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. I'm not disagreeing—Atmosphere did shortlist—but it needs to win something, so I proclaim it the winner of The Crawford Award for Best Beach Book of 2002. It is a solid, genre-soaked entry and most of its faults seem due to literary nescience. Besides, it's an out-and-out pageturner, lots of fun while remaining somewhat gory and sexually perverse, has a subtext that doesn't indulge much significance, and is a rather original blend of tropes from Science Fiction and Horror that hold together, ah, fairly well.

Just don't call them clichés.

Think of them more as allusions.


© copyright 03/28/2009 by Larry Crawford

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