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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Fade to Black

[This review is based on an ARC sent to me by the publisher.]

Fade to Black is the new book by supernatural thriller writer Jeffrey Wilson. Here is the publisher's summary:
Jack is a young man caught between two terrifying worlds. In one, he is Marine Sergeant Casey Stillmam, locked in combat in the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. He is lying next to his dead and dying friends, bleeding in the street – until he wakes up at home, in bed with his wife.
In this other world, Jack is a high school science teacher, husband, and devoted father to his little girl. But the nightmares of war continue to haunt him, and to Jack/Casey they feel in many ways more real than his life at home with his family.
When news of killed Marines in Fallujah surface, Jack realizes he knows far more about these men then he should. But, when the dead Marines begin visiting him while he is awake—he realizes he is in serious trouble.
Faced with the possibility of losing his mind, or far worse, the nightmares being real, Jack knows he must somehow find a way to bridge the two realities and fight his way back from the nightmares to save his wife and little girl.
This novel starts with a bang, literally.  Wilson, a vet himself, throws the reader right into a battle.  In fact, there are realistic battle scenes spread throughout the book.

But this is more than just a book about Marine buddies fighting and dying for each other, it is also a thought provoking contemplation of the afterlife. As a result, there is a great psychological aspect to this book. The overall atmosphere Wilson creates is sinister; not outright horror bur definitely scary.

As the point of view switches back and forth between Jack and Casey, the reader is asked to fall into this spiral of untrustworthy perceptions and try to figure out, along with the characters, what is real and what is not.

As the truth rises to the top, the book has a satisfying twist.  I agree with most customer reviews that this twist is not necessarily a huge surprise, but after reading the book, I am not sure it is supposed to be a shock.  I think, the reader, like the dual protagonists, are all coming to terms with the differences between what appears to be and what truly is.  The haze of war is thick and Wilson, a vet himself, appreciates that.  But even though the twist is not a shock, you read on to see how the characters will react to it and how the story will resolve.

As I mentioned up above, this is also a heartfelt book. Not an adjective you normally see on a superntural thriller, but it is apt. Wilson writes about families and their bonds very well.  He also understands how violence and trauma can bring unrelated people to a bond as close as family.  He captured this to a point in The Donors, but it is even more succcessful in Fade to Black.

I enjoyed this one much more than The Donors because it was just as creepy, but more thought provoking, and heartfelt. While The Donors was more dark fantasy, Fade to Black is a terrifying supernatural thriller with a heavy psychological suspense pacing and feel. I am adding it to the BPL's collection because I feel like it is good for a wide audience.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Supernatural Military Thriller , Psychological, Afterlife

Readalikes: Someone on Goodreads mentioned A Brief History of the Dead as a readalike.  I agree it makes a good readalike.  It is one of my all time favorites. Here's an annotation I wrote for it before the blog:
The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier  
A deadly virus is quickly killing off everyone on Earth, and Laura Byrd, a researcher in Antarctica is apparently the last person left alive. This apocalyptic story alternates between Laura’s struggle for survival and an alternate universe called “the city,” populated by the dead who still are remembered by those living on Earth. This compelling and original tale is chilling and thought provoking.
Many people read ghost books for the afterlife issues and while this book is not a traditional ghost story, it has many of the same aspects: hazy, sinister line between life and death, haunting tone, unresolved life and death issues. I have listed other ghost stories that have a similar appeal here.

The entire feel of the story reminded me of an old episode of the Twilight Zone but just set in Iraq now.

Fade to Black  also made me think of the supernatural PTSD story "The New Veterans" by Karen Russell  in her story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

Some will like the war scenes, battles, and comradierie among soldiers. For them I would point them to this list of the most popular books tagged "military" on Goodreads. It includes fiction and nonfiction.

The Jonathan Maberry military supernatural thriller Joe Ledger series is another choice for people who want more thriller and less psychological suspense.  I reviewed the first book in the series, Patient Zero, here.

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