“ Author: Aaron Niz / 371 pages / Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l. „
Dr Harry Dobbs is the personification of scepticism. With a PhD in Evolutionary Biology he is also a practitioner of magic and sleight of hand and has made a career of exposing the truth behind "miracles" from such shameless crooks as bogus shaman healers and other religious conmen. Unfortunately, his life has recently gone to the dogs with his marriage hanging on by a slender thread after his wife Angie's infidelity and his brother Gus facing imminent demise at the hands of cancer with only a very expensive surgery available to prolong his life, which naturally their insurance doesn't cover. When debating rival Father Alfred Perkins offers Harry a more than ample fee (that would, by a strange coincidence, cover Gus' medical bills) for his fraud investigating skills into rumours of an occult having taken over the church in a small town of New Hampshire he finds he has no choice but to accept and decides to take Angie along with him in his undercover role with a hope of healing their marriage rift. What Harry thinks will be easy money turns out to be more deadly than he could have ever imagined and puts his beliefs (or their lack of) to the test - can he put a stop to the strange goings on in this small New Hampshire town or will the evil lurking there be unleashed out into the world?
The Skeptic: An Occult Thriller was penned by relative unknown author Aaron Niz who has gone down the e-publishing route with his many novels solely in digital format ranging from young adult fiction to humour to horror and this particular novel is a venture into the realms of supernatural horror. The premise was a promising, albeit less than original story, with the potential to have been a spooky page turner and genuine thrill ride, but for me there was just something missing, some kind of wall up that prevented me from truly immersing myself in the story which made it a slightly disappointing and ultimately laborious read. I think the real trouble was I'd come across this plotline in dozens of films, TV programs and also in other books so absolutely nothing came as a surprise to me and I felt my own sense of presentience taking over at almost every turn so the element of shock was certainly lost. Of course, for those of you that may not have come across such an idea before this could have a totally different atmosphere for you, but for me it was more chilblains than chilling.
It's hard to put my finger on why I felt so disconnected to the story, all the right ingredients were there with a small isolated town setting, some shady and downright frightening individuals plus some horrific events that should be enough to unsettle if not fully disturb us, the reader, but I never felt even an iota of fear, and one of the biggest problems was most definitely with the main character Harry Dobbs. I thought I would be able to relate with him as a fellow sceptic but I found him a little self-righteous, sanctimonious, intolerant and to be honest a bit of a self-absorbed jackass. A man whose debating skills consist of "To be honest, I wasn't taking the question seriously because it isn't a serious question. And that's the problem with you religious folk, when discussing these kinds of questions with you - you're intellectually dishonest as a rule" clearly has a superior attitude and despite his arguments being of the same mind-set as my own I took an instant disliking to him. To be honest, his wife Angie, another character in a perilous position, was also highly irritating with her irrationally jealous fits and childish antics so much so that I just didn't care what happened to her, which perhaps caused another vital thread of the plotline to have become unstitched as her welfare was integral to character motivations and dramatic effect. In fact, I felt the general character development was a little on the vapid side and there wasn't a single character to really root for or care about, despite the obvious candidate being Harry.
If the intention, as I suspect, was for the story to be a tense thriller / horror then the pace of the story sadly put paid to that. Things were slow to get going with some ultra-long scene setting not really stirring up much buzz and upon arrival to the "danger zone" the progress of uncovering the true nature of events was drawn out with suspense having gone on a long holiday on a tropical island. Harry, this supposed religious debunking mastermind showed himself to be a bit dim-witted at times and the need to slap him round the face with a wet trout was ever present. Obvious attempts at creating tension and knee-trembling fear were made with subtle hints of malevolent forces at work and some deviously shadowy figures intimating at what should have been an unnerving sensation as well as some inexplicably bizarre and often horrendous events that should have been terrifying and disturbing but were underdeveloped and spread too thin to have any kind of real impact so there were never any moments of quickening pulses or gulps of terror. Really, the groundwork for ratcheting up the tension levels was successfully laid, but unfortunately the ultimate crescendo for me was in the key of B flat minor as there was that lingering sense of detachment causing a constant disconnection from the emotional effects of the plot twists.
That's not to say it was all bad. The prose and dialogue was pretty well written, even if there were stacks of noticeable spelling and formatting errors riddled on the Kindle version, and was very easy to read even if it failed to grip at times. Most of the characters were believable if not overly likeable and the idea was a good one for a horror story, even if execution was a bit poor and the plot less than original. Still, even though the story didn't have the expected psychological impact (at least for me, but I may be desensitized after years of watching horror films), it still raised a few interesting questions about the effects of having to fundamentally change your perception of the world and the moral dilemmas faced when trying to stop an evil beyond normal social boundaries where the rules do not apply. So all in all it was a competent effort at creating a scary supernatural horror story with an easy writing style but the characters were dull and unlikeable, the story was not entirely believable and slow moving causing the desired levels of tension to never reach their full potential and it all felt a little clichéd and unoriginal. If this is not a genre you are familiar with you may enjoy it, but for those fans of horror, I doubt this one will do much for you.