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Muriel Gray


US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-385-48002-4

$23.95, 360 pages

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel ©) 2001





Trucker horror is a sub-genre that has as much basis in the movies as it does in novels. Though based on a fine Richard Matheson story, the film of 'Duel' by Spielberg is the largest looming truck-horror icon in our mental landscape. Rcently we've seen some newer, novelistic takes on this scenario; Jay Bonansinga's 'The Black Mariah', lodged permanantly in development limbo with George Romero rumored to be at the helm, and now Muriel Gray's film-friendly 'Furnace'. But Muriel Gray has a few surprises up her sleeve, and 'Furnace' is more than another truck-on-the-rampage novel.

This is not to say that Gray does anything particularly new here. 'Furnace' begins when Josh Spiller pulls his truck into the town of Furnace, Virginia, where he is made the unwilling participant in the murder of a baby. Furnace is the prototypical "town with a secret". As Spiller tries to force an investigation, he runs afoul of the dark forces behind that secret. He finds himself in possession of a slip of something upon which is written "Five days permitted to live". He picks up a mysterious hitchiker, a girl trying to escape from Furnace. Faster than you can say "M. R. James 'Casting the Runes'!", the race is on.

Gray's characters are not deeply drawn, but there's more than enough there to carry the reader through the rocket-ship plot she's devised. She knows how to crank up the tension, and when to sling the gore. She's also good at getting into the doubts her characters have of their own sanity when faced with horrific supernatural events. She integrates the surreal aspects of the menace she has created into our own fractured world view, where mass murders, ethnic cleansing and rains of frogs can co-exist on the same front page. But what she does best is hand out the clues and light the fuse, describing scenes of action with aplomb as Josh tries to unravel the mystery of Furnace before his own life unravels. Readers looking for a good time with some serious thrills will find that 'Furnace' turns up the heat in the right places.