Michael In Hell
Y.S. Gazelle Books
Paperback, 216 pages, $16.00 U.S.
Reviewed by Rick Spearman
Michael in Hell began as a short story sent to Isaac Asimov in 1973. Asimov suggested that Dennis Latham develop it into a novel. Latham began writing the novel in 1993. His agent in 1995 assumed that the final draft was too violent, however after reading Michael in Hell I agree with the author, the story was ahead of its time. Now after a limited release in 2001 Michael in Hell is finally available, offering up a frightening glimpse of what our world could be if Latham’s vision of the future back then had come true.
The story begins in June 2005, and opens in Michael Tucker’s secret Indiana cabin. A cabin painted black on the inside, an isolated torture chamber in the middle of nowhere, Michael Tucker’s Hell. At this point a reader could wrongly assume that he is reading just another serial killer on a rampage story, where every kill is drawn out in painful detail, amplifying the brutality of an inhuman monster, but Latham draws you in proving that there is much more to this story.
Yes, Tucker is a serial killer with a high body count, and he may be possessed by either a real or imagined monster, but he is a defender of the weak, targeting pedophiles, bringing justice to victims that the legal system can’t provide. He is a Vietnam veteran with post traumatic stress, muscular from workouts that keep his monster at bay, haunted by nightmares in a world gone mad. His girlfriend Barbara, Vietnam vet pal Billy and Doctor Stahl also provide support and keep him grounded.
This world that Latham creates for his characters, whether in the cabin or in the equally bleak urban landscape, is one of fear and danger, gated communities guarded by psychotic stalkers overlook HIV quarantine camps, State sponsored public executions provide weekend entertainment, and riots rage until heavily armed helicopters swoop in to end them.
As the story progresses Michael looses more freedom, friends, and without giving too much away this is where the story is at its strongest, as he struggles to survive as his own personal Hell intensifies leading to a surprise ending.
Michael in Hell is a fast hard ride, with few obvious flaws in design, well worth the price of admission, unique and intense.
Dennis Latham is the author of The Bad Season and The Lord of Homicides, also available from Y.S. Gazelle Books