"Who are you and what am I doing here?" Cailean said, and stared at the thick, impenetrable wall of darkness that surrounded her. She tried to focus on something that moved inside the blackness."
The Lurking Man is the second book in the Thanatology series by Keith Rommel (the first book being the Cursed Man).
The first bit of writing we get is a description of what exactly thanatology is. Here is the excerpt from the book;
" Thanatology- study of death and dying and the practices associated with it, including the study of the needs of the terminally ill and their families."
So now that that's explained, let's get into the actual story. It starts with a woman named Cailean, who finds herself outside in the middle of an apparent snowstorm, with nothing but a circle of bright light surrounding her and complete darkness beyond it. She has no memory of how she got there or who she is. There she meets Sariel, a shadowy figure who hides in the dark. He is literally Death and brings people to an enclosed world of his making to show them their past sins and give them a chance at redemption.
The story is told by alternating between flashbacks of her past and her realisations in the present. She is made to watch key moments of her life, that formed her as a person and ultimately led her to where she is. What Cailean discovers is an agressive, destructive alcoholic who hurts everything around her. Deeply unhappy, she was a time-bomb waiting to go off. As the story progresses, she learns more and more about the person she was.
From the start of the book, we know Cailean is dead. As the flashbacks proceed, we get slightly closer to what we know from the beginning is inevitable. We don't know how she died, or what she did that was so bad, but through brief snippets the sense of dread increases and a little niggle forms in the back of your mind telling you what must be coming up.
The plot is fascinating. What must it be like to discover the person you were? It brings me back to that age old question- if you met yourself, would you like what you saw? Not only that, but there was a clever little subtlety worked in that I'm not sure was even intentional. Remember another old saying, "when you die your life flashes before your eyes"? Well that's exactly what happens here. The whole plot is Cailean watching flashes of her life. A nice little bonus (I thought), even if it wasn't intended.
Another possibly unintentional aspect of the plot, was its similarity to that of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". It may seem an odd connection to make, but both books centre on unpleasant, cruel people who are visited by spectres who try to get them to see the error of their ways (through flashbacks of their lives) and give them one final choice and a chance to redeem themselves.
Having said that, the two stories are very different and I would not mistake one for the other. I just thought it was an interesting thing to note.
Cailean is one of the most unpleasant characters I've ever come across. She is violent and abusive, blaming everyone but herself, while drowning her life away in alcohol. Not that she's unrealistic, but as a person she is very hard to like. At the start we may feel sympathy towards her, but it turns to disbelief and even anger when more of her is revealed. However, everyone deserves a second chance and, as Sariel said, she is there for a chance at redemption.
Sariel himself is an interesting portrayal of Death. He lurks in the shadows and provides an eerie presence. A commanding figure, who is not necessarily unkind, but a little too happy messing with people to be comfortable with. It's clear he is a cold, unapproachable figure. Though whether that is because of Cailean's past actions or just because he's Death is not. Throughout the book, we see more and more of him, until he reveals himself in full and I can't help but wonder if leaving him shrouded in darkness would've had a greater effect. Imagination is a powerful thing and giving it free reign can prove more powerful than description. Though the symbolism of his physical form is undeniable and does play an important role.
The symbolism increases later, when two characters are introduced, representing the good and evil in all of us. Some people nurture the good side and it grows, matures and holds back the evil. Some people feed the evil side and it fattens and abuses the good until it submits. The larger the evil gets, the harder it will be to hear the voice of goodness and ignore the taunting of the bad. This is used to explain why people do the things they do. Everyone has a conscience, some people's are just harder to hear over the more destructive voice within.
The conclusion is done very well. From the very beginning we already know what will happen, but it still manages to surprise. When all the pieces are tied together and all the truths are revealed, they clash, causing sparks to fly and resulting in a great ending.
I haven't read the first book in the series, but plan to now. Each book can be read as a stand alone or as part of the series, so starting in an unusual order won't lessen your enjoyment of the books. An amazing read, good for people who don't mind a lot of dialogue or little action or just want a good book that it a great example of less-is-more.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.