JETER, K.W., The Dark Seeker, TOR Books/Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., New York, NY, USA, 1987.
Octavo; paperback, illustrated embossed wrappers; 317pp. Mild shelfwear and a cancellation hole-punch to the covers; spine creased; light toning of the pages, else fine.
I’d heard a few whispers along the grapevine about Jeter – that he was a good writer and worth checking out – but the opportunity to investigate didn’t arise for quite awhile. When I finally picked up a copy of this book, I almost didn’t buy it, because the cover artwork and design are so awful. But I decided that I shouldn’t be cover-judging and forked over my cash for it. I’m extremely glad that I did.
The story involves a group of researchers who dabble with an experimental drug, allowing them to mesh consciousnesses, with a view to applications in battlefield situations, where the formation of a gestalt-mind between combatants would be of practical value. However, the drug also releases the darkest, innermost tendencies of those taking it, pushing them towards acts of depravity and wanton destruction. The action takes place some years after the experiments, when the researchers are on heavily-regulated prophylactic chemical inhibitors and have been re-located, found ‘Not Guilty by reason of Insanity’, after a series of horrific murders which the drug – a discrete entity they refer to as ‘the Host’ - forced them to commit.
We follow Mike Tyler, living in Los Angeles with his nurse girlfriend Stephanie and her son Eddy, idly testing the boundaries of the limits which his medication places upon him, bridling against the regimen but seeing how far he can go without it. Things are dull but otherwise fine, until he receives a call from his former wife Linda who calls him to say that ‘Slide’ - an old criminal associate of theirs and part of the experiment from the research days – has taken their child Bryan away from her, the child that Mike thought was dead.
From here on, the pace is unrelenting as Mike tries to find his son, keeping at bay the semi-retired detective Kinross, who has a crusade against the researchers, and the cash-poor journalist Bedell, who squandered a mint made from his book about the experiment and its crimes, and who has a sample of the drug stashed in his house. On top of this, Mike has to balance his re-surfaced hysterical ex-wife and his new love and her child, whilst trawling through the wreckage of his past and his old – very damaged – associates to try and find the Host-addicted Slide, before something horrible happens to the son he thought he’d never see again.
Fans of Frank Belknap-Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” (which I reviewed earlier) will sense a resonance with this story: the power of deadly and unpredictable drugs and the depths to which otherwise civilised individuals will descend if the barriers are removed, is tensely explored. In Long’s story, the “foulness” is embodied by the Hounds themselves and is the price paid for dabbling; in Jeter’s tale, the Host springs into “foul” phantom existence from the deep, dark desires of the gestalt-mind. I’d suggest that any Keeper thinking of incorporating the Plutonian Drug into their adventures should read this book to gain some real insights into the effects of these kinds of toxins on the minds and bodies of the users.
Jeter’s prose is sharp and precise, sketching to perfection the subliminal flashes, visual aberrations and mental distortions of the characters involved. As well, his ability to conjure the locales of the L.A. milieu work brilliantly: the hard, modern environment really underscores the bleak worldview of the broken researchers. Actually, I couldn’t think of anywhere else that this story could have been set, since Jeter is clearly channelling the Manson Murders as part of his story-telling. I was thinking, as I read, that I could see where things were tending, but the ending caught me completely by surprise: I enjoyed afterwards, the fact that Jeter had flagged all of these options as to the final resolution and had then done something completely unexpected. A masterful stroke!
Five tentacled horrors from me!