Olin “Mark” Lester is a former Army Ranger and a 21-year veteran of the Charlotte NC police force. He’s been a SWAT member, a sniper, and a canine handler and has one more mark on his resume: published horror story author.
Full disclosure: We met in 2011 during a ski and snowboarding trip in the North Carolina mountains. Mark and I hadn’t spoken much since then but social media and text messages kept us connected. Hence my surprise and curiosity when I saw he was publishing books.
Mark told me he draws on many experiences from his time as a police officer, and as a child growing up in Virginia. They don’t overwhelm the body of his work though. Rather The Message has themes a lot of folks might be familiar with: religion, alcoholism, death, and second chances. There is even an ode to World War II in there.
This is only the second book I’ve finished in an entire day. It is a novella so it is short enough to do so but that’s not the point, even if the novella was by design. (As Mark told me, “I should be able to tell you the story within five pages instead of twenty-five pages”). The point is, this novella of horror is fun to read. The author doesn’t overemphasize or over-explain scenes, features, or environment. What I experienced was that he left it up to my imagination, which only added to the weight of the horror theme.
Messages and their delivery take many forms throughout the stories. Some come from God to a young man who runs into what seems like a reincarnation of Dante’s Inferno. Another comes from a spouse to a grieving husband. You see the theme here…well themes. Messages are a device and a theme, but religion is also present in every story. Again, this was by design. “People are afraid of religion,” he told me over the phone, and it’s a heartstring he pulls at effectively.
After reading this novella, I picked up Lester’s other book The Missing. I’m excited that he has a “part 2” of The Missing coming out this year (reviews forthcoming). It’s also great to see veterans and those in high-stress professions writing and publishing their work. For Mark, this might be a second-act after retirement. I don’t doubt it move that way.
This is a fun read for anyone looking for a break from longer tomes, academic reading, or any fan of horror and science fiction. There is enough in the world of Mecklenburg to build more stories, revisiting them as if they are old friends, thinking of the environments and themes Mark has crafted from his wild mind that has seen military and law enforcement life. What messages will be brought to you after reading? Be adventurous enough to find out.
Marshall McGurk served nearly five years with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) after a stint with the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized). He enjoys scotch, cigars, good books, foreign films, and critical thinking. He is passionate about international relations, domestic affairs, and successful veteran transition. He serves in the Army Reserve. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.