by Marshall McGurk
September 2006 chilling in my tent in central Iraq with my roommate. All of a sudden, I threw Nightmares and Dreamscapes against the wall and sped to bed. I’m not sure I got much sleep that night, but that was the first time a book had scared the bejesus out of me. Of course, I kept reading the next day, feeling the terror of Stephen King’s short story of horrors.
I have found another book that gave me a similar fright: Olin Lester’s The Missing.
The town of Mecklenburg, Colorado, has soured. People go missing, and evil is running amuck in a page-turning nightmare as Tom Porter journeys through hell in a parallel world to get home. Will he escape? Will anyone survive?
Olin’s prompt to the book may sound traditional, but pay attention to the words. Soured. I could taste the disgust on my tongue as I read about the missing people posters on the town’s coffee shop board. As stated, the story is set in the fictional town of Mecklenburg, Colorado, as Tom and Walter check out a strange and startling discovery in an underground mine. From there, the story takes a swift turn into a parallel world, where the two men, joined by police officer Charlotte Kane and her working dog try to find a way back to sanity.
The world Lester creates is unique. Sure there are familiar themes — religion, witch-hunts, personal sacrifice for the greater good — that readers could tie to other novels and stories. There are no tropes of time travel, quantum physics, or fantasy. This world is unlike anything I’ve read about before and that kept me turning the page.
As with Olin’s previous work The Message, this is a relatively short novel with clear and simple language. This allowed my imagination to run amok as I visualized a frontier family burning at the stake, a blind preacher describing a decrepit present and even more heinous future or the random acts of weather that seem to befall the characters when they make gains.
Olin told me on a phone call that “he makes his characters suffer.” True statement; his characters do suffer. However, the reader does not suffer with the characters. You get to choose who to follow, who to identify with, who to empathize with, and who to hate. It is liberating, and due to the uniqueness of the world Olin Lester creates, I can easily see this being shaped into a screenplay for film or television.
Adding something new and unique to the horror and science fiction space is not easy to do. This is not just a mindless read. In fact, mindfulness will enhance the reading experience. Feel the fear, the terror, the hope, the despair.
Feel all of it, and enjoy.
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.