Books 31 Jan 2008 03:48 pm

Scavenging for a sequel

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David Morrell, the creator of Rambo, writes books for the way we live today. Clean, simple prose. Long chapters broken into shorter sections. Highly visual situations. Easily identifiable characters.

He has mastered a style of writing similar to Michael Crichton and Dan Brown, who also propel the reader through their books by convincing him to read “just one more section” until hours have passed and the book is finished.

Morrell’s latest, “Scavenger,” revisits Iraq War veteran Frank Balenger shortly after the traumatic events of “Creepers.” There, he was nearly killed by a violent psychopath while exploring the abandoned Paragon Hotel. He also rescued Amanda Evert, who bears a striking resemblance to his dead wife.

In “Scavengers,” Morrell’s hardest task is to find a way to put Ballenger and Evert into a similar situation again, complete with a new violent psychopath, without making it feel too forced. He does this by moving the plot along at a brisk pace, diving right into a mystery involving time capsules that is intriguing enough to hide the obvious similarities with the previous book.

Meticulous research is another Morrell characteristic, and it is in evidence here. If anything, the author throws in too many intriguing concepts to do all of them justice. Time capsules. Letterboxing. Goecaching. Virtual reality. Video games. The connection between violence and the media. Any one of these would make for an intriguing concept; mixing them all together creates a brew that might be too heady.

The novel culminates in a subterranean showdown that echoes the conclusions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Richard Matheson’s Hell House, and MGM’s Wizard of Oz. No small feat, that.

“Scavenger” was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, and the observations of its main characters will likely have thoughtful fans pondering the issues raised. For example, exactly how long will it be before a contestant dies on a reality-television show, and once that happens, will networks begin to capitalize on mortality rates? Far fetched, maybe, but possible.

Morrell is also the author of an excellent book about writing fiction. The last I checked, his “Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft” was out of print, which is a crime. It should still be readily available through used book stores and online, however, and I can’t recommend it enough. Unlike some authors of how-to-write texts who have written only about writing, Morrell has dozens of novels to his credit, and he practices what he preaches. Recommended.

“Scavenger” is due out in paperback on May 27.

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