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Crimson / Gord Rollo

Leisure Books / March 2009
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

Timing is everything. And, in the case of Gord Rollo’s Crimson, the timing isn’t good. Releasing a mass-market version of your debut after the public has embraced your far-superior sophomore effort is risky business. Safe to say writers learn oodles between their debuts and that all-important follow-up, as Rollo demonstrates with last year’s Jigsaw Man, so the concept of exposing the reading public to one before the other is akin to putting the cart before the horse.

Crimson is a mishmash of Stephen King’s It, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and The Green Mile all crammed into one paper-thin bag. The novel begins promisingly with a balls-to-the-wall prologue, followed by the introduction of four childhood friends – Tom, Peter, David, and Johnny. The latter has just moved into the long-abandoned house once owned by the murderous psychopath of the prologue and it isn’t long before the curious pre-teens are running afoul of an underground bunker and an It-like demon with glowing red eyes. There are some effective set pieces in this first part, most notably a creepy run-in with a once-beloved scarecrow in a farm field. Despite some wooden dialogue, Rollo ably captures that magical period between boyhood and adolescence. Taken as a coming-of-age tale, Rollo nails this part with King-like precision.

But by the second act, in which the boys are relentlessly pursued into their teen years by the same creature, the idea of mind control and dream invasion is introduced to lesser effect. The dream-within-a-dream device is overplayed here and quickly grows tiresome. Worse, Rollo imbues his talking creature with an almost cartoonish sense of snark that routinely breaks any mood he’s able to establish.

In the third act, Rollo abruptly shifts gears and moves the action from small-town Dunnville to a maximum-security penitentiary, requiring the reader to adapt to a new setting after having firmly established an authentic sense of atmosphere in the preceding pages. After the creature gains control of the friends’ minds and sets off a gruesome killing spree, one of them is set up to take the rap as the Ripper Killer (yes, throw some loosely-based Jack the Ripper mythos into the mix) and is carted off to jail. But the creature – whose disappointingly silly origins are explained here – soon re-appears and makes its world-domination intentions clear in a political subplot right out of Omen III: The Final Conflict. Despite the increasing suspension of belief that’s required of readers and the creature’s near-flamboyance (think Freddy Kruger meets the Jack McFarland character from Will & Grace), Rollo somehow pulls off a surprisingly effective, well-paced finale that will, despite any previous misgivings, have readers turning pages faster and faster.

Crimson seems intended to hastily cash in on the deserved success of Rollo’s Jigsaw Man rather than showcase an up-and-coming author’s talent. It’s a somewhat backwards ride through an emerging and promising career, but – like facing rearward on a forward-moving train – you know eventually things are going to turn around.

Purchase Crimson by Gord Rollo.

Posted on Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 11:06AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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