Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: 'Stickman' by Seth Pfefferle

3 / 5 Stars

‘Stickman’ (279 pp.) was published by Tor in July 1987; the cover art is by John Zielinski.

In an unnamed hellhole of a country in southern Africa, a delegation of US Senators arrives to investigate the massacre of a television documentary crew (‘Sporting Chic’) out in the bush. Escorted by a team of mercenaries and Governor Mobatasi, the local chieftain, the delegation journeys into a barren landscape wracked by drought and starvation. Once at the site of the murders, it becomes disturbingly clear that the ‘rebels’ responsible for the death of the television crew liked to collect the severed heads of their victims.

Kurt Dietrich, one of the more intelligent members of the mercenary team, suspects that something  otherworldly may have been responsible for the massacre. Was it the ‘Stickman’ featured in the primitive paintings made on the walls of a cave located near the massacre site ? Does the Stickman represent the embodiment of a warrior from the spirit world ? If so, can he be killed with earthly weapons ? As events quickly lurch into a disastrous confrontation between the delegation and a predator from another world, the prospect of another massacre at the hands of the Stickman seems likely.....

‘Stickman’ is certainly creepy and engrossing for its first 140 or so pages. Author Pfefferle keeps the Stickman’s on-screen appearances sparse, but holds the reader's attention by letting the squalor and brutal violence plaguing the postwar African landscape represent a parallel horror story in and of itself.

Unfortunately, the middle section of the book sees the action slow to a crawl as the author devotes way too much text to exploring the psychodramas between the various members of the delegation and its guardians. Page after page unfolds filled with squabblings, arguments, selfish behaviors, and various acts of domestic mayhem, until the point was reached where I wanted all of the characters to be snuffed out by the Stickman. [To be fair to Pfefferle, this sort of middle-act meandering is the bane of many horror novels, particularly ‘The Ruins’ (2006) by Scott Smith].

The narrative doesn’t regain momentum until the last 30 pages of the novel, at which time it does deliver on the requisite suspense. But I came away from ‘Stickman’ thinking that it would have benefited from being a good 60 – 75 pages shorter in length.

Readers looking for a decent mid-80s horror novel reminiscent of the 'Predator' franchise, and with a willingness to put up with a great deal of melodrama among the beleaguered party, may want to give 'Stickman' a try.

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