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Stephen Laws

Hodder & Stoughton

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 0-340-66611-0

546 pages ; £16.99

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001





Since Stephen King set the standard for the horrific apocalypse novel 20 years ago with 'The Stand', there hasn't been a lot of experimentation in the field. There have been some notable additions, but writers such as Robert R. McCammon and Alan Rodgers, have not strayed far from the formula developed by King, with good reason. King's concoction of lite science fiction mixed with Biblically-weighted horror was a natural development that allowed writers a lot of room to play. It took Stephen Laws, Britain's own answer to Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz, to re-invent the horror disaster novel in his latest work 'Chasm'. In it, we get nothing less than Hell on Earth -- in a small British town of course.

However, the first chapter gives a quick clue of where this book is going when the first chasm we encounter is not a crack in the earth, but rather the yawning abyss between a married couple whose only child was killed in a back yard accident. In short order, Laws annihilates the town with an earthquake that leaves a quarter mile square portion of the town atop a mountain-like crag surrounded by an apparently bottomless abyss. By the time night arrives, the survivors discover that the "disaster" they have endured has left them stranded in an entirely new reality. In the distance, across the chasm, they can see other parts of the town on their own crags, like islands. Something is stirring in the darkness between the peaks.

'Chasm' is not written in the standard horror style of rotating points of view. Instead, we get large chunks of 'The Journal of Jay O'Connor', told in the first person, mixed in, and an almost separate tale that works its way towards the rest of the characters, 'The Ordeal of Juliet Delore'. The latter is an effective "woman's nightmare" of being pursued by a relentless, violent scumbag across Laws' blasted landscape. There are some particularly effective bits of characterization that keep the reader caring about the characters, an essential requirement for lifting this book above the usual supermarket shelf fare.

Of course, the real mystery here is not what is going to happen to the characters. Often that is telegraphed long before it happens. The real thrust of the narrative that keeps the pages turning is what is happening to the world to create the situation in which the characters find themselves. Laws makes a few nods to quantum theory, but for the most part keeps his story firmly planted in the supernatural.

As usual, Laws demonstrates his mastery for describing places and actions on a big scale. The scenes set in around the chasm are breathtaking, and he really works hard and succeeds at making the scenes play across a big screen in the reader's mind. Fortunately for the reader, this means the matte effects are flawless. Like many of his books, Laws' 'Chasm' cries out to be made for the big screen. If you've read other Laws novels, you won't be disappointed. If you have not, then this is not a bad place to start.