“F0 was in there all right. Hiding where he didn’t think we’d be able to find him. I would though. There was no place he could hide where I wouldn’t be able to reach him and drag him, kicking and screaming, back into the light.”
F9, by Michael McBride
DarkFuse, June 2013
63 pages (ebook)
The rate of violent crime is on the rise, and nowhere is this more evident than in the state of Colorado.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”
It’s called Acute High-Altitude Neuropathic Dissociation — or, more commonly, Mile High Syndrome — and Dr. Ellis Randall Harding, a neurologist, is determined to understand why. For him, it’s personal. He was there on September 24th, 1994 when a gunman walked into the library and started shooting.
“I once was lost, but now I’m found…”
The answer is locked inside the mind of a monster who shot and killed nine people in 1968. The problem is he’s in a vegetative state and incapable of communicating with anyone, except for Dr. Harding, who has figured out how to utilize medical imaging technology to amplify and interpret the killer’s brain activity.
“Was blind but now I see…”
But as Dr. Harding learns, there are some things that mankind was never meant to understand. Chief among them, the true nature of evil.
*** I requested this review copy through NetGalley. ***
First note: it should be pretty clear from the blurb above, but if violent shootings are a trigger for you, you’ll want to give this one a pass.
Second note: this is a novella, not a novel. The story actually works quite well at this length, but I still wished I would have known ahead of time what I was getting, which is why I mention it again here. I guess that’ll teach me to do a little research before clicking that “request” button.
Although I was initially disappointed by the page count, that feeling quickly disappeared as I started the story. It sucked me in from the first page and held me right up until the last. The book alternates between this doctor’s attempts to communicate with and understand the mind of an aged mass murderer — referred to as “F0” — and a recounting of other similar attacks over the past few decades.
This simple format allows McBride to slowly build up the tension in each thread of his story. The shootings provide the action, though they’re summarized in a clinical sort of way. The violence isn’t gratuitous (at least it didn’t seem that way to me), it just is. Meanwhile, the experimental interview between Dr. Harding and F0 is literally a mind game.
This is honestly a hard book for me to categorize, as far as genre is concerned. The “psychological horror” label seems to fit, but I’m not really the best judge on what’s horror and what isn’t, because it doesn’t scare me. (And that’s not a criticism; I don’t like to be scared, so I’m quite glad that I can read horror because I definitely can’t watch it.) The line between thriller and horror is, to me, very thin. This novella could probably go either way, but it just has that vibe, like it’s meant to be horror, and most of that feeling comes not from the violence in the past, but from the quiet suspense of the present events.
Whatever it is or whatever it’s meant to be, it was very good.
Unfortunately for those with other e-readers, F9 is available in Kindle format only. (The publisher and author sites both reference a limited hardcover edition… but no information on how to actually get one.)
Does this sound like something you’d pick up? How do you feel about novellas vs novels?