« Mad Dogs / Brian Hodge | Main | Duma Key / Stephen King »

The Price / Alexandra Sokoloff

thPrice-1.jpgSt. Martin’s Press / February 2008
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

Perhaps the only thing scarier than the horrors of hospitals is the Democratic debate over universal healthcare. But while Clinton and Obama square off against each other on the national political front, the characters that populate Alexandra Sokoloff’s sublime second novel, The Price, find themselves waged in war against the devil himself. With hints of the ghostly doings of Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital set against the larger political backdrop of The Omen films, The Price is a at once a supernatural medical chiller and deal-with-the-devil political thriller.

Will Sullivan is a product of privilege and wealth, a popular Boston District Attorney making a run for the Governor’s mansion. With strong familial ties to the state, a photogenic family by his side, and charisma to spare, he is considered by many to be the frontrunner in an ugly campaign against an archrival. But wealth and privilege can neither guarantee nor buy health as Will and wife Joanna soon learn when their cherubic five-year-old daughter, Sydney, is diagnosed with a malignant stomach tumor.

As the family settles in for an extended stay at the Briarwood Medical Center to combat Sydney’s cancer, Will finds himself drawn deeper into the labyrinthine maze of connecting hospitals. There he meets an enigmatic stranger named Salk whose shadowy presence slowly insinuates itself into the lives of the both the patients around them and the Sullivan family itself. Will suspects, too late, that Salk’s offer of counsel hides something far more ominous. When Sydney suddenly charts a miraculous recovery, Will fears that Joanna’s involvement with the mysterious Salk may mask a sinister connection.

Rest assured that Sokoloff will suffer none of the signs or symptoms of a sophomore slump with this confident follow-up to her Stoker-nominated debut - 2006’s The Harrowing. Written with the same strong sense of atmosphere and setting as Harrowing - especially in the book's first half where the action is set within the maze-like hospital system – The Price boasts a genuinely chilling, well-drawn set piece that includes creepy hidden hospital corridors and outdoor courtyards cast in the snow-covered shadows of looming marble statuaries. There’s nothing antiseptic about the horrors in Sokoloff’s hospital as her gooseflesh-inducing imagery jumps right off the pages, and her rich, graceful prose calls to mind names like King, Saul, and Levin:

Will looked out the glass wall into the shadowy garden. He moved grimly toward the doors and pushed through them into the icy night.

The cold hit him like a shock. Snow swirled in flurries around the elf and gnome statues in the children’s section of the garden. Clouds scudded over the full moon; in the preternatural light, everything seemed alive. The wind whispered through bare branches like a chant.

Will ran forward, crunching snow like glass under his feet. Breathing plumes of frost…down the gravel path between the skeletal trees…through the line of looming statues, ice frozen and glistening on their faces. The last statue reached for him with outstretched arms. Condensation dripped from its eyes, like tears.

When Sokoloff changes direction in the novel’s second half, one isn’t quite certain at first how the dramatic shift in setting will bode for the sense of continuity in tone and mood. But Sokoloff proves herself a master storyteller here, and readers will find themselves easily swept up in the Sullivan’s post-hospital story. And whereas the first half is decidedly creepier, the mystery and suspense elements are stronger in the book’s second half. Even the blueblood political world setting of Boston seems as fitting here in the book’s second half as the hospital does in the first.

Like The Harrowing, The Price relies heavily on its supernatural elements - but never heavy-handedly. And while some scenes ably deliver their nightmarish goods, Sokoloff imbues the prose with just enough otherworldliness that permits the reader to experience some of Will’s disorientation without falling out of her narrative grasp.

A poised and accomplished follow-up to its promising predecessor, The Price takes all the elements that made The Harrowing so memorable – the well-drawn characters, the strong sense of atmosphere and mood, the delicate balance between paranormal and reality – and drops them into the more ambitious backdrop of a political campaign where deals are made with the devil everyday and true evil is never more than an election away.

Purchase Alexandra Sokoloff’s The Price.

Posted on Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 06:15PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend