Review: Creepers (by David Morrell)
A page turner. That’s the only way I would describe Creepers by David Morrell. The pacing is utterly perfect, from the slow build-up as the urban explorers enter the Paragon hotel to the quickening pace when the explorers are taken hostage, to the climactic struggle with Ronnie. The ride is thrilling and the pace contributes to that.
Morrell also does a fantastic job creating atmosphere. His descriptions of the Paragon hotel paint a seductive, if disturbing setting where five-legged cats and rats the size of bowling balls are the norm rather than the exception. It’s the small details that create that initial discomfort and unease—the tree growing on the stairwell, the dead monkey in the suitcase, the haunting rendition of Moon River in the abandoned hotel ballroom. The discomfort also comes from the situation—five people exploring an abandoned hotel with few exits or safety nets. But given the sheer amount of disturbing material, Morrell does a great job building the unease. It happens slow and deliberately, creating unpredictability for the reader. Just when things seem to be at their worst, Morrell pulls another switch and the tables are completely turned.
His greatest accomplishment may be juggling multiple storylines. Belanger from reporter to cop to military to torture victim to husband searching desperately for his wife. The professor from an expedition leader to a sick old man needing money. Ronne from a serial killer to the boy who was molested. And of course, the plot lines. First, they were exploring a building. Then, they were taken hostage. Then they searched for gold. Then they found the girl. And so on and so forth. Creepers contained so many turning points…places where the entire plot and situation turned on its head to reveal a new and scarier picture. And Morrell sets the stage in the beginning, with talk of the owner of the hotel, the police reports and the appearance of the five-legged cat. It’s all right there; he didn’t pull any rabbits out of thin air. Spectacular job.
Now, to the rough stuff. The characters were thriller stereotypes. The ex-military man, the serial killer abused in his past, the muscular, tattooed hostage takers lusting for violence. For stuff here. When an interesting character did show up—Amanda, Vinnie—characterization rarely took place. Moreover, while the plot started well, it descended into a smorgasbord of the genre’s greatest hits—serial killers, revenge plots, money grabs, hostage takers. Nothing particularly original, except the hotel and its past. The rest could’ve been taken straight for a Dean Koontz novel.
Overall, Creepers was a good read. While the story’s puttered toward the end, the pacing, description, and setting made up for flat characters and stereotyped plots.
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David Morrell’s Creepers adopts a creative spin on a breaking-and-entering premise for his latest thriller. A New York Times reporter, Frank Balenger, joins a group of "Creepers," also known as infiltrators, urban explorers or city speleologists—men and women who outfit themselves with caving gear to break into and explore buildings that have long been closed up and abandoned. Though what they're doing is technically illegal, participants pride themselves on never stealing or destroying anything they find at these sites. They take only photographs and aim to leave everything untouched. Balenger joins a group of four: the leader, Professor Robert Conklin, high school teacher Vincent Vanelli and graduate students Rick and Cora Magill. This gang infiltrates the Paragon Hotel, an abandoned, seven-story, pyramidal Asbury Park, N.J., structure built in 1901 by eccentric, hemophiliac Morgan Carlisle. Balenger and the professor have a special agenda, but the others are there simply for the thrills. Things quickly begin to unravel in life-or-death situations once the trespassers sneak into the building—they aren't the only ones creeping around the dilapidated hotel. Veteran thriller writer Morrell embraces themes from several genres and blends them into a nightmarish spine-chiller. There's the survive-the-night-in-a-haunted-house plot starring a Norman Bates villain; there's a Treasure of the Sierra Madre cast that would rather die than give up the loot; ...