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Double Edge

Dennis Etchison

Pumpkin Books

UK Trade paperback

ISBN 1-901914-11-9

178 pages; £6.99 ($14.95 US)

 Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001



Horror, Mystery

12-31-02, 05-15-03

Dennis Etchison is one of the most talented prose stylists working in the horror genre today. His short story collections, especially in their Scream/Press editions, are among the best the genre has to offer. In these tight times for horror, he apparently can't even get his latest novel, 'Double Edge', published in the United States. The new UK publisher Pumpkin Books, specializing in low-cost horror, has brought out this latest novel in a trade paperback format that is reasonably priced even in the United States. 'Double Edge' offers much of the surreal suburban horror that made Etchison famous, but it appears his paying work writing novelizations of the 'Halloween' series has had an unfortunate effect on his own projects. 'Double Edge' starts off strong and disturbing, but the conclusion is especially disappointing.

Up until the final pages, however, you will get a good dose of Etchison's trademarked cold prose. Jenny and Lee Marlow are screenwriters who have sold a movie about the legend of Lizzy Borden. They are just about to leave for vacation when Lee's parents are killed in an auto accident. As Lee examines the evidence, he begins to suspect that the accident was in fact a murder. Jenny, meanwhile, finds herself at a séance, where she's given a mysterious warning. It's clear that more people will die, and more murders will take place.

Etchison's best sequences are his evocations of the absence of life beneath the bubbling Southern California suburbs. But, he fails to take up his subject fully. Though the novel ostensibly deals in part with the legend of Lizzie Borden, and there are some implications that the present-day murders are connected to their research, the reader is never given more than what is literally a screenplay pitch of what went on in the Borden case. He passes up the opportunity to use the research he clearly did on Lizzie Borden to beef up this slim novel and give it some more resonance.

Instead, we're plunged into a plot that veers away from the mysterious and into the land of the slasher movies that Etchison has novelized. The twists are somewhat effective, but Etchison loses the edge of the unknown and replaces it with very realistic but not-so-frigtening menaces. Etchison fans will find much to admire here, but other readers are best advised to dig up 'The Dark Country' to get a feel for Etchison's enormous talent.