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Owl Goingback

ISBN 0-451-19736-4


US Paperback; $6.50; 320 pages

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel (c) 1999



Shaggy monster stories are not what they used to be. We've all seen Men in Suits -- not black, tweed or even seersucker, but rubber, zippered, scaled, springing forth tufts of hair. Everyone, not just horror readers, is inured to the terror of being ripped limb from limb by some big old creature from the Black Lagoon, outer space, or deep inside the earth. If it happens, well, you're dead. Eventually someone will get the idea and shoot at the thing with a rocket launcher or a sacred arrow, or whatever it takes to kill the beast. Still, there's a great reservoir of fondness for monsters, especially on my part. But I don't like monsters that are mere killing machines. I like them to have a personality, an agenda. Frankenstein's creation is the prototypical example for a reason. Other more recent examples include the Outsider from Dean R. Koontz's beloved novel 'Watchers' or the intelligent, learning creatures scared up in the novels of Adam Niswander. Owl Goingback's 'Crota' strives to be one of these monsters, but falls short. We get glimpses of monster vision, but no soliloquies.

Goingback is no doubt an excellent writer. 'Crota' starts quickly, if tritely, with the old trip down Graveyard Road. Unfortunately Buddy's Harley runs out of gas. He's eviscerated a short while later. Goingback gets a large number of the details of the forensic investigation exactly right as he describes the crime scene in the following chapter. He writes with some of the precision of Dean Koontz, setting up the scene vividly in the reader's mind, and one has the feeling that he has done a fair amount of research. Of course, no one will believe Sheriff Skip Hastings saw anything other than a bear at the fringe of the crime scene. And so the killings and pursuit start.

Like Niswander, Goingback steeps his novel in authentic Indian lore, no doubt helped by the advertised fact that he's Choctaw-Cherokee. However, other than a couple of subsidiary Indians, his characters seem to exist to serve the needs of the plot, rather than have lives that happened to intersect with that of the monster. And the monster itself is something of a contradiction. Early on, it's hinted to be a Lovecraftian survivor from the Cretaceous period, the last member of a cunning race of killers. But later in the book, the monster is more supernaturally oriented, an avatar of some kind of "darkness". The two explanations don't jive, they don't join, they're not resolved and neither satisfies. The brief glimpses of monstervision are only enough to assure the reader that the Crota is, yes indeed, a killing machine.

Nonetheless, 'Crota' is an entertaining read if you are the kind of reader who might sneak out to a movie like 'Deep Rising' or 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon'. Goingback can certainly write well. His prose is crisp and clear and carries the familiar action right along. Unfortunately, the action is all too familiar, the resolution expected. Put 'Crota: The Movie' in the wrong hands, and you've got a flick tailor made for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang. Even in the right hands, there will be wits in the audience heckling. I admit it. One of them might be me.