Hardcover, 352 pages, $23.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
Shane Briant’s suspense novel, Worst Nightmares, utilizes the cat and mouse theory of thriller writing. Toy with the protagonist, and the reader will squirm in empathy. Briant succeeds in producing this desired dynamic much of the time. He creates an interesting premise, but some of the tension is diminished due to overcomplicated plot elements and rocky characterization. There’s a lot of powerful punch in the book, yet it is erratic in its pacing of the terrors. The sense of unease is fragmented due to abrupt fits and starts in the plot. Briant is savvy and knowledgeable in what constitutes a commercial success; he capitalizes on the sensational, sometimes losing his focus on the finer points.
The novel begins with an immediately grabbing situation: The Dream Healer’s website, picture Freddy Krueger as therapist, lures online lurkers who have ongoing phobic nightmares. The Healer chooses a select few to address their nocturnal issues. This elite group, of course, comes to very bad ends, and prolonged torture happens before death.
An award winning prestigious writer, Dermot Nolan, is suffering from writer’s block. He receives a copy of a handwritten manuscript which details, from the killer’s point of view, The Dream Healer’s horrible handiwork. At first repulsed, Nolan, the recipient of literary awards and accolades, is later seduced into appropriating the work. It appears as though the bearer of The Dream Healer’s story has met an untimely end. The sheer raw power of this document is catnip for Nolan. It will cure the writer’s block, salvage his deteriorating marriage, and augment his expensive lifestyle. The journal is justified in his mind as viscerally rough but powerful fiction; the work of a demented dead man. Urged on by his wife, he reluctantly sees the potential: Not only will assuming the authorship make him more palatable in the popular sense, but there’s the movie adaptation.
A moral dilemma?
Certainly: Where would Faust be without one?
Nolan, though, faces more than just one. As he investigates the background of what he originally perceived as a fictional diary, he discovers there is a bit too much fact involved. If the manuscript contains real slayings, then Dermot is guilty not only of passing off another’s work as his own; he simultaneously becomes a silent accomplice in murder. One lie leads to another, and the golden boy of literature gets dragged down into the depths of exploitive, crass pop fiction sleaze. He also goes on trial for multiple murders. This could be construed as an allegory.
What is obvious, however, is that author Briant sees what it takes to be marketable. Like his protagonist, Shane Briant acknowledges the basic formula of a best seller, and goes for the jugular. This is almost a novel within a novel: The reader is privy to the machinations of writing and book sales; creativity and avarice.
There is no question that Briant, who has a history of horror in his work as an actor in Hammer films and in the Dan Curtis production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, knows how to appeal to genre fans. He takes the template and tweaks it enough to make it interesting.
That isn’t to say he doesn’t stumble into pit falls: Character motivation flips and flops back and forth, and there’s a slip and slide feel about the story line. The narrative has fragmented sections that don’t quite hold together. Inconsistencies abound, but few will care when reading the last page. Did Shane Briant sell out, like his lead character? Most definitely; and the extensive and elaborate marketing plan for Worst Nightmares will probably reap great success: Can’t wait for the movie.